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Snowfall and the Conflict of Philosophical Impartiality

There are several sayings associated with the drug game–or the drug game as it is depicted on television and in film–such as, “[t]here’s no honor amongst thieves” or “[d]on’t make business personal.” Along with this, there’s the idea of family. Drug and crime organizations treat one another as a sort of defacto family, putting emphasis on rewarding undying loyalty with physical and financial protection.

It’s common that those in the family are regarded one way, while those outside are treated another way. This difference in treatment is the difference between partiality and impartiality. Impartiality, which is usually seen as a value is “[t]he idea that no one individual counts for more than any other individual, morally speaking” (Bzdak 47). To treat people with impartiality is to treat them all the same. However, this doesn’t equate to equal treatment, or even, punishment for all. For example, if the justice system sentenced people impartially, homicide would be treated the same as a speeding infraction. So, a better definition might be that when someone is treating a situation with impartiality, they “apply the same rules and processes, in the same manner, to all who come before them” (Bzdak 47). The justice system gives every person accused of a crime the right to due process under the law, despite what crimes they are accused of committing.

Philosophers argue that “[s]ignificant moral problems we still face-such as discrimination, poverty, religious tensions and war-would be eased if people were less partial towards their own interests and the interests of those close to them” (Bzdak 48). If people were able to put aside their own interests and only bear the greater good in mind when making moral decisions, these issues would lessen tenfold. However, when a decision maker is overly considerate of their interests, values and beliefs, decisions tend to favor those belief systems. When we take a concrete example of a drug organization, like Franklin Saint organization in Snowfall, we can see contradictory impartiality politics at play.

At the end of season two, Franklin goes to prison for accidentally killing his childhood best friend Kevin with a gunshot wound to the leg in a park in the middle of the day. Kevin was preoccupied with gunning down the man who killed his cousin, who happened to be a figure in a local Latino gang. Franklin wanted Kevin to wait for him to push a deal through with his rivals, the Villanuevas, before finding the man. But after discovering that Franklin didn’t do his due diligence in locating the man that killed his cousin, Kevin was done waiting and sadly lost his life. Similarly, in season six, Franklin kills his high school friend, Rob, with a gunshot to the back of the head. Rob gave Franklin a place to stay during high school so that he could go to school in a better district; he also helped Franklin move his weight in the early days of his organization. However, after becoming an addict, Rob began getting sloppy and letting things spill to the CIA. After Rob had a party at his house, where another of his addicted friends accidentally killed someone, Franklin made Rob kill his friend before killing Rob himself.

It would be easy to describe Franklin’s actions as impartial. He found two people in his organization that he couldn’t trust, so they had to go. However, Rob’s proximity to the CIA was caused by Franklin himself. After all, Franklin is the one that purchased a home for CIA Agent Grady and encouraged his friends to develop more intimate relationships with Grady. In both of these situations, Franklin decides to take a life to solve an issue he caused by himself. Things only get more confusing when we talk about Leon and Manboy.

Leon is another of Franklin’s childhood friends. It’s a common belief that Leon’s loyalty is his most important quality and that this loyalty originated in Leon’s younger days when he rolled with the Crips. Until a certain point, Leon rode for Franklin, no questions asked. A turf war began between Franklin’s associate, Skully, and Skully’s brother-in-law, Manboy, another of Franklin’s associates. Leon told Franklin not to swear allegiance to one side because each side led a gang and was only interested in destruction. However, after Franklin got involved in the turf war, the one Leon told him not to get involved in, Leon had to make a move out of his allegiance to Franklin. Leon went to their Skully’s home and waited outside. When he thought he saw their rival pull up, he and his associates sprayed the car, killing Skully’s young daughter, Tiana. Tiana also happened to be Manboy’s niece. This effectively changed the direction of Leon’s character development and is what began to spiral Franklin’s organization. Rather than avoiding a pointless turf war, Franklin’s organization managed to end the turf war, while turning both sides against themselves. However, instead of turning Leon over to Manboy, an ally at the time, Franklin protected Leon and eventually gunned Manboy down. Previously, Manboy gave up one of his soldiers for camping out in the projects, which was Leon’s territory. After Leon committed the fateful error of killing Manboy’s niece, Manboy was just expecting Franklin to return the favor.

What makes Leon different from Kevin and Rob? The only difference I can glean, is that Leon was following orders, but that doesn’t change the fact that an innocent life was lost. Is Manboy a better leader for his ability to remain impartial? Though his soldiers were following orders by camping out in the projects, he turned them over upon request, recognizing his own wrongdoing. People often use Manboy’s philosophies as reasoning for why he’s a worse leader, but if impartiality is what makes a good leader, Manboy is a textbook example.

One of the best examples of the conflict of philosophical impartiality lies in The Wire, which can be considered a precursor to shows like Snowfall. In season three, episode six, “Homecoming,” Omar, the show’s most beloved character, comes face to face with Detective Bunk Moreland. Omar and Bunk grew up in the same area and even went to the same high school. However, while Bunk went into law enforcement–specifically homicide–Omar became a vigilante, going after touts and dealers and giving the drugs away for free. Burt this isn’t enough for Bunk; “...rather than admiring Omar’s code, Bunk points out the tragic consequences of dividing the world into victims who matter and victims who don’t. Not only does such partiality fail to serve the greater good, it actively undermines it by destroying the community” (Bzdak 55). Omar’s biggest error was assuming that involvement in “the game” took away one’s ability to be considered a victim or that being a child or “taxpayer” meant that one wasn’t involved in the drug game. This is especially true, as Omar is killed by a child and several political figures in the show . Does Omar not get the “victim” classification just because he’s caused harm to others?

This takes me back to Snowfall. Who is Franklin to decide that Tiana is a victim that doesn’t matter, especially when he considered himself a victim of Manboy’s cornerboy, who did nothing but spy? Who is Franklin to decide that all of the others that died at the hands of he and his organization do not deserve justice for the taking of their lives? What kind of leader is Franklin that he can demand impartiality from everyone but himself?

Bzdak, David. “LINE 4. Wee-Bey’s Way.” The Wire and Philosophy: This America, Man, edited by David Bzdak, Joanna Crosby and Seth Vannatta, Open Court, 2013, pp. 45-58.

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