What Do Real Thugs Think of The Wire? Part Four

Sudhir Venkatesh, who’s got a dialog with Alex Kotlowitz over at “Slate” about his new book “Gang Leader for a Day,” is back now with his fourth installment of watching “The Wire” with a group of New York-area gang personnel. His previous entries can be found here.

“Pay up fools!” Shine cried as Marlo entered Prop Joe’s kitchen. After the first episode, Shine predicted that the upstart “street nigga” would kill the “schoolhouse Negro.” He was predictably gleeful after pocketing several thousand dollars in rolled-up bills. “Chicken wings and mac and cheese on me,” he offered the losers.

This was not the only thing the self-described thugs got right about the final season of The Wire. They correctly surmised that Bunk and McNulty would split up and that our Irish detective would start down the corrupt path of a bad cop.

Much to my surprise, there was little empathy shown for Prop Joe. “It’s no one’s fault if you’re that stupid,” Orlando explained. “You can’t let that young buck [Marlo] run around like that without responding. Prop Joe screwed up, got sloppy. You never, I mean you never believe in co-ops. You got to be out for yourself … But, hey, I screwed up too. I put up $5,000 that Prop Joe would come back and kill Marlo. Just goes to show: never bet with your heart.”

Flavor, the youngest in the room at 29, felt a strong tie to Marlo. “I can’t tell you the number of these old fools, like Prop Joe, that stand in the way when we try to make things happen. They always talk about the old days. F-ck the old days. I got kids, I got bills, I don’t need no old crumpled up, fat fool telling me to give my money up to n***ers who don’t do nothing for themselves.”

Flavor’s comments started a heated discussion about generational change in the urban drug economy. Shine, representing the 40-year-olds who came up in the 1980s, alluded to the tradition of “family” that once united urban gang members; Flavor said that kinship was outmoded and that the free market was the only way that the gangs should operate.

This debate, literally flavored with beer as it flew around the room, brought me back to the salad days of the late 1980s, when I watched the major street gangs in Chicago figure out the best way to deal crack. The older members wanted to create a socialist model, in which all members of a gang pay their drug revenues to a general fund and the profits are distributed equally among the group. The younger ones wanted to embrace individualism. In the words of one leader I knew: “All for one, and one for himself.” Each person would be paid according to what he earned slinging.

Free marketers have won the day, as we know, on the streets of the ghetto and in boardrooms downtown. But folks like Shine (and Prop Joe) ended up forming co-ops because supply routes were unpredictable, cops needed to be bribed, and money needed to be laundered. So the fight between Marlo and Prop Joe carried a lot of significance. And as Orlando explained, Prop Joe mistook the co-op’s power to stabilize distribution for a capacity to function as a regulated monopoly — like Major League Baseball, in which teams agree to general rules of commerce. The only real thing co-ops can do is help you get your product on time.

I was pleasantly surprised that the thugs (finally) took some interest in the media soap opera. They were drawn to the affairs of our young, white hero, Scott Templeton, a rogue reporter who may be making up quotes to get ahead in the newsroom. They contrasted his hubris with Marlo.

“He’s got that look,” Tony-T said, “like he’s ready to climb. But you know the saying, ‘the higher you climb, the harder you fall.'”

Tony-T offered a prediction: the reporter would start making up stories, find his way to the pipe, get addicted, and join McNulty and Marlo in a great fall. That’s a lot of drama for the few episodes in front of us, but the others felt the hero was also in for a spill. (They also remained insistent that the lovely Alma, the other junior reporter, would sleep with McNulty in the next two weeks).

At one point, there was a lull in the conversation. Shine turned to me and asked, “Who reads these reports you write?”

“You mean the blogs?”

“Yeah, who reads them? I mean, what are the people like? They’re white, right?”

“Well, actually,” I said, “I have no idea. They comment, you know; they react to what I write, but I’ve never met any of them.”

“They’re white,” Flavor said, dismissively. “But I’m with Shine, I’d like to know what they think.”

I told them to read the blog, but they offered up an altogether different proposal. “I want them to tell us whether Marlo will kill Omar, or the other way around,” said Orlando, picking at his teeth, like a Southern gentleman on his front porch. “I want to see how smart they are.”

“Yeah,” Flavor pushed on. “And I want them to say exactly how it’s going to go down. Because you know what this whole thing is leading up to … Good versus Evil — if you can tell the difference around here.”

“See, Omar has a choice to make,” Tony-T explained, “and I’m not sure if everyone would get it, unless they worked in the ghetto. Omar can kill Marlo. That’s easy enough. But he has to think about his own future. Getting back for Butchie is one thing, but he’s got to be smart about how he goes after Marlo — see, you got the Greeks now and that makes things different.”

Tony-T stopped talking. The others nodded. I felt confused.

“How?” I said. “How do the Greeks make things different? Because they’ll protect Marlo? Because Omar will befriend them? Does Omar even know them?”

No one answered. They just grinned slyly.

So, readers: what say you?

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



View All Comments »
  1. gp says:

    I am reading your book, and these posts go well with it.

    As for the Greeks, I assume that now they need Marlo for distribution they will protect him. They are the real money, so they should be able to muster far greater resources (ex-communist assassins, quality security, …).

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  2. Chris says:

    Don’t forget, the greeks also have an FBI agent on the payroll. They are the real power. It’s like McNulty going against city hall. Power always wins in the end.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  3. Steve says:

    About the predictions – if these guys were smart and computer literate, they could make a lot of money by downloading the pirated episodes of the wire online. They are now available through episode 7, and episodes 1-6 have been available for a couple of months.

    I have trouble believing that all of the money is being paid off. In my experience betting with criminals, they only pay off if they fear or respect you. If they make a bet with a junior or someone perceived to be be below them and lose, they will not pay.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2
  4. tonywood says:

    Who speaks for the dead? Simon has, so far. Stringer paid for DeAngelo and Omar’s lover. Wallace was spoken for, too. With that in mind, Omar should kill Marlo or at least Chris, Snoop or Michael. I bet Michael doesn’t finish the series even though he was not part of the Butchie torture. What the street does to its people requires at least one of the four bys to die (Niamon’s off the street, so…) However, I believe that Marlo survives as does Omar.

    A man must have code. Those with codes are Carver, Freeman. Bunk, Omar, Avon and Marlo.

    What’s more interesting to me is who is left to be the ray of hope for the future–even if it is a slightly tarnished ray of hope: Carver? Freeman? Bunk? No longer Daniels who has been bought.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. Pop Fisher says:

    Mark it down, Omar will take down Marlo.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  6. Bay says:

    Nice discussion.
    I have to say while I would love to see Omar walk away from this I wonder if in fact he can.

    Oh and I am white yes but have lived in inner city Baltimore not far actually from where they film much of this for 20 odd years. I am a recovered addict who lived looking at many of those same battles happening. I do not really think many white people who have ever lived there can know what it is really like which is why I love this show. It gives as much of a true glimpse into this as you can get without living it.

    I only wish there was some way to change and break the cycle in tat area. Baltimore’s way to deal with it has been to tear down whole blocks of homes Not just houses mind you HOMES Tearing apart what was at one time many years ago even before I got there was a lot different than it is now. Heck even when I arrived there was still good there. It was not all bad. Where you may have addicts lined up in alleys to get their blast you could still have families going to Church. You could still walk through the area any hour with only a mild worry of getting stuck up. Now it is so different. The hoppers have gone stock raving mad they just do not care anymore. Frankly how can we expect them to when most were raised with at least one or two relatives running folks into the basement to get high or running drugs out the back window. Many of those same kids who were just in diapers when I lived up there are now out there slinging and killing and in jail and frankly I can not say I blame them for having so much anger in them.

    Sometimes I wonder will it ever change? Will it get better? Will they find a way to help the many in that area who really do want to find a way out a way to break that cycle but at same time have yet to see many do it because once they get out they do not look back.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  7. ManhattanWire says:

    I think that Omar’s emotions will get the best of him and he will make sure Marlo gets done. But the consequences of this will be a manhunt for him led be the Greeks who have lost their connection and don’t want to deal with the rest of the co-op.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  8. Ciaran says:

    The Greeks seem to like stability, so I dont know why they didn’t tell Prop Joe about Marlo’s approaches. Surely it would be more beneficial to them to supply the entire co-op, rather than just Marlo – even if he is going to take over other people’s territory.

    I’m not sure why Omar would have to fear the Greeks when he comes for revenge. It’s not like they were protecting Prop Joe, a man who took fewer risks than Marlo.

    I miss Avon, he was the right mixture of Marlo’s aggression and Prop Joe’s brains. But I guess he won’t be back this time.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0