By David Mayeda
How can one provide sociological analyses of The Wire without bringing in the complex character, Omar Little? Little (well, Omar) is a Robin Hood-esque individual who incessantly steals drugs and money from Avon Barksdale’s crew. In retaliation, Avon has Omar’s partner brutally tortured and killed, leading Omar to hold an even greater obsession in ripping off the Barksdale crew.
In these two snippets from season 1, we first see Omar and his crew at night preparing to steal drugs/money (or “the stash”) from one of the Barksdale sites. Then the next day we see Omar and his crew try to carry out their plan. This is an excellent set of scenes one may use to better understand rational choice theory, which purports that individuals are generally rational, potential criminals, who would engage in crime if they could get away with it. In other words, we have a sense of free will and weigh the pros and cons that go into committing different crimes.
Rational choice theory, however, has a robust range of components. Again, all of us are potential criminals who…
- consider how crime is purposeful
- sometimes have clouded judgement about crime due to our bounded rationality
- make varied decisions based on the type of crime being considered
- have involvement decisions (initiation, habituation, and desistance) and event decisions (decisions made in the moment of a crime that should reduce the chances of being caught)
- have separate stages of involvement (background factors, current life circumstance, and situational variables)
- may plan a sequence of event decisions (a crime script)
Note in particular Omar’s bounded rationality – how his judgement is clouded by his despise for the “Barksdale Crew”, as Omar’s crew asks at night in the car why they need to keep hitting up the Barksdale stash houses, even though more vulnerable targets exist. Also take note of the crime script that is supposed to work out well, but doesn’t, since Omar and company are not aware of the amount of firepower present in the stash house being targeted.