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Environmental journalists face challenges under Trump administration -

March 25, 2017

An open letter to the students of UMass -

March 24, 2017

Pat Kelsey informs UMass AD Ryan Bamford of change of heart just 35 minutes before scheduled press conference -

March 23, 2017

Past and present UMass football players participate in 2017 Pro Day Thursday -

March 23, 2017

Pat Kelsey reportedly backs down from UMass men’s basketball coaching position -

March 23, 2017

Students react to new fence around Townehouses -

March 23, 2017

‘Do You Have The Right To Do Drugs?’ debate held in Bowker Auditorium -

March 23, 2017

UMass men’s lacrosse looks to build on three-game winning streak against Brown -

March 23, 2017

UMass softball riding five-game win streak into first Atlantic 10 showdown -

March 23, 2017

Sanzo: Inability to win close games has hurt UMass baseball -

March 23, 2017

Hannah Murphy scores 100th career goal in UMass women’s lacrosse 16-9 win over Harvard -

March 23, 2017

Old age does no harm to indie rock legends The Feelies -

March 23, 2017

A track-by-track breakdown of Drake’s new project -

March 23, 2017

When a president lies -

March 23, 2017

Let them eat steak, and other gender norms I hate -

March 23, 2017

Dissecting Science: Episode Two -

March 22, 2017

Holy Cross 10-run eighth inning sinks UMass baseball -

March 22, 2017

UMass students react to Spring Concert lineup -

March 22, 2017

Letter: Vote yes for Amherst -

March 22, 2017

You don’t have to walk alone -

March 22, 2017

‘Black Market with Michael K. Williams’ shines amid doubts

(Official Facebook page of Black Market with Michael K. Williams)

(‘Black Market with Michael K. Williams’ Official Facebook Page)

“Black Market with Michael K. Williams,” featured on Viceland, offers viewers a critical perspective into the world of illicit trade as a means of outlining the roots of destructive behavior within society. It excels at providing more scope to topics in comparison to shows of similar style like “Drugs, Inc.” or “Gangland” because the host asks the all-important question: Why do certain people engage in criminal activity, even if they know their behavior could negatively affect others?

To answer the question, Williams focuses on understanding people’s interactions with their environment, local laws or culture to track issues more deeply. And to do this, he relies on verbal testimonies from people involved in illicit trade rather than statistics.

Some may be skeptical of Williams’ approach to gaining information, suggesting that the credibility of the interviews cannot be verified. But such an outlook ignores Williams’ efforts to humanize the people involved in illicit trade, who resort to it because of many interacting sociological factors. So even if the interviewees were actors, “Black Market” could still accomplish its goal by lending a new way to approach the conversation in regard to criminal activity.

Take for example the episode “New Jersey Drive,” which depicts Newark’s rise in carjacking incidents.

Williams interviewed a middle-aged community member who admitted to stealing cars when he was younger. According to him, a lack of recreational opportunities for the city’s youth created boredom and to supply a thrill, he and his friends learned how to hotwire a car so they could joyride the vehicle before abandoning it. Now that certainly seems like an extreme way to fill spare time, but without youth sports programs, which were cut from the city’s budget, it seems logical that children could fall into destructive habits.

The interviewee proceeded, saying that he and many of his friends’ behavior later intensified into carjacking, which involves forcefully removing drivers out of cars (often at gunpoint) then selling the stolen good.

Can we be sure the individual from “New Jersey Drive” got involved with violent crime because he didn’t play Little League baseball? No. But by personalizing the account and introducing the sociological element to the equation, through the suggestion that the development of society is not always perfect and people often resort to desperate means as a result of the imperfections, “Black Market” successfully encourages viewers to recognize that human behavior is shaped in response to a myriad of influences.

From government decisions or indecisions to physical environment to financial stability, each decision we make is the result of a lifetime of influences. Simply pointing to statistics, which have the unfortunate consequence of removing an individual’s history from the equation, is ineffective when discussing a topic like illicit trade. Thinking with the intention to understand why rather than by what means can help form real solutions toward reducing destructive behavior.

When there is a forest fire, no sensible firefighter concludes the incident was the fault of the trees. He or she would investigate recent weather patterns or look for signs of human activity. “Black Market” is worth watching because it reinforces the need to broaden our understanding of cause and effect.

Michael K. Williams noted in a reflection that none of the folks he’d spoken to about breaking the law felt happy about their behavior. Most, he says, act against the law because they feel it is a way to a better life.

Michael Agnello can be reached at magnello@umass.edu.

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