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Wire Star Shares Street Stories With Students

All Photo Credts & Captions will go in the photo and the font is Calibri By Evan LeBlanc


utgers-Newark hosted a reception and lecture last week with Gbenga Akinnagbe, the star of the hit HBO series The Wire to discuss his past roles as an actor and producer along with his future endeavors as a social activist. The event entitled Street Stories with Gbenga Akinnagbe was conducted by the Department of English and Sociology as an unof�icial opening of the recently renovated Essex Room on the second �loor of the Paul Robeson Center Tuesday afternoon. Akinnagbe was invited to speak to a group of students and staff alike by Professors Bartowski and Butter�ield, in conjunction to further the ideas taught in their course entitled Special Topics in American Literature: Street Stories Cultural of HBO The Wire. According to the Rutgers NCAS website, the course studies the 60 episode television series which includes topics such as criminal justice, labor, politics, education and the media.

The Wire, which was created by David Simon, re�lects on the daily interactions of drug dealers, police of�icers, and politicians alike in Baltimore, Maryland. According to, The Wire focuses in depth on the media’s role in shedding light on the fundamental political, economic, and social struggles and triumphs in the inner city over the shows �ive seasons. Akinnagbe plays Chris Parltow, a ruthless murderer and gang enforcer under Marlo Stan�ield, one of the cities biggest drug dealers. “I don’t think when I approaching a character I don’t think of them as good and bad, these are just people just doing what they have to do in the moment to get accomplished what they need to get accomplished,” Akinnagbe said. “Chris was doing Chris. Chris was one of those characters that did what he had to do he didn’t do anything extra like shoot up the block that wasn’t him.” When asked by a student how he prepared for a particular scene when he had to kill someone, Akinnagbe describes it as something he doesn’t look forward

to. In the shows fourth season Partlow is asked by one his fellow henchman Michael to kill his little brothers father that may or may not have been molesting him. “That day when we shot that scene I went down to the dock and shot six people,” Akinnagbe jokingly tells the crowd . “As far as preparing for it, it was a personal violation. We all have experience with being violated in one-way or the other.” This was Chris reliving his personal violations and taking it out on this person who is not a very good man. You never knew when you got the script if it was your last script, but we were very grateful for having been along for this ride,” Akinnagbe responds. Many students especially those who were obligated to attend by their professors had mixed feelings about the event and the newly renovated Essex Room. Shardae White a senior Journalism student confessed she had no idea who Akinnagbe was. “To be honest I don’t know who it was but it was required. I also think they should have waited to have an event there,”

Photo Credit by Brian Harris White said. ”When he talked about his social active participation that’s something I could relate to without watching The Wire,” White quickly added. Junior journalism major Aliza Umala described the event as surprising and enjoyable. ”It was the best to see it as an open discussion. It was not just The Wire class there,” Umala said. “When he told the crowd about his social active work it showed his dedication on and off the camera.” While Akinnagbe is best known for the Wire is involved in many other successful television series including Nurse Jackie and Graceland. In addition to being a Sundance Festival �ilm producer, he is an advocate to demolish New York’s Stop and Frisk Policy. Akinnagbe also runs a nonpro�it organization called Rewire For Change along with a clothing line entitled Liberated People. “The Wire is very art and is on the social consciousness nationally an internationally, so it never really stops,” Akinnagbe said.

Wrongly Convicted Man Speaks At R-N

anything to eat the entire time that I was there. They played the game known as ‘good cop bad cop inutes before Jeffery Deskovic took the podium, ’ in which one of�icer takes on a more aggressive role whereas the he had the calm of any other pretends to be a friend who’s veteran public speaker opposed to what’s happening yet preparing to deliver a speech. somehow powerless to intervene. Nobody would have guessed that They used all kinds of scare tactics the same man, who was dressed on me.” clean-cut in a full suit, with a During the interrogation freshly trimmed beard, toting a cup Deskovic agreed to take a of coffee in one hand had spent 16 polygraph, or lie detector test— years of his life behind bars for a knowing full well that he was crime he didn’t commit. innocent. However after the long That Monday night when hours of stress and the multiple he stepped out before the nearly cups of coffee police administered, packed crowd of Rutgers-Newark Deskovic’s pulse readings were students in the Essex Room of erratic. He indicated that the the Paul Robeson Campus Center, of�icers’ actions were a conscious he had the place looking on utter effort to build a case against him. silence. With the false and coerced “I’m trying to work with what I confession held against him, got here,” he said with a smile while Deskovic’s case went to trial. And fumbling with the microphone. while his own genetic material “Good evening everybody.” failed to match the DNA found on Then Deskovic told his story, the victim, prosecutors succeeded recalling how his life as a teenager in convincing a jury of his guilt. was interrupted after police falsely “On the day of the sentencing connected him with the rape and I begged the judge to overturn the murder of a fellow classmate. verdict because I was Innocent,” He explained that after arriving Deskovic explained. “And I at the station, of�icers violated referenced the DNA to support his rights, threatening him with my contention. He actually told physical violence if he didn’t make me on the record: ‘Maybe you are a confession and neglected to innocent,’ conceding that the case inform him of his right to legal against me was �lawed. Yet that representation. didn’t lead him to exercise his “They put me in a small room,” discretion.” Deskovic said. “I did not have an Instead the then 16 year-old attorney present. I wasn’t given Deskovic was sent to prison with


By Scott Nisley

the “easy and politically expedient” sentence of 15 to life. While isolated from society, Deskovic began appealing his case, taking it back to trial again and again to no avail. Finally after running out of appeals, and unable afford the costs of hiring an attorney to represent him, he began writing letters and appealing for help with The Innocence Project, an organization committed to helping prisoners wrongfully convicted of crimes. Deskovic explained that he found an advocate within The Innocence Project and an investigator from outside the organization who both were willing to take his case on. Eventually they cleared his name after connecting the genetic material originally found on the victim with the DNA of another man, already imprisoned for another crime. “Many people are never proven innocent,” Deskovic said. “There’s not enough resources relative to the amount of people who have wrongfully convicted. Many people are never proven innocent, they just die in prison.” Following his release, Deskovic committed himself to advocating for other innocent people like himself who were wrongfully convicted. He founded The Jeffery Deskovic Foundation For Justice, a team expanding on the work groups like The Innocence Project has been doing. So far Deskovic

and his team has exonerated three people. Marin Kurti, a doctoral student and lecturer at the R-N School of Criminal Justice spearheaded Deskovic’s appearance on campus, explaining that it would be a good way to expose his students to someone with �irst-hand experience being wrongfully convicted. “I was tired of students just reading from the textbook,” Kurti said. “I thought, why not bring Jeff here and talk about coerced confessions—so what does it mean for someone to be 16 years-old and asked to come down to a police station without their parents?” Michael Ciaramello, a senior in the Criminal Justice program at R-N was taken aback by Deskovic’s story and how the very serious implications of wrongful conviction could affect anyone’s life. “It was unbelievable and how it could happen to literally anyone,” Ciaramello said. “And it’s very unfortunate. I’m glad that I was able to hear from him—just to share his stories, to get an idea of reality—this can happen to anyone. It’s important” Aside from this work, Deskovic enjoys spending his time traveling and telling his story around college campuses like R-N. “[It’s] the closest I’ve ever come to being an entertainer or an actor, or a performer,” Deskovic said.

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