What Do Real Thugs Think of The Wire? Part Six

Sudhir Venkatesh, Columbia sociologist and author of “Gang Leader for a Day,” is back for a sixth report after watching “The Wire” with a group of gangland acquaintances. His past reports can be found here.

I had been waiting for the self-described “Thugs” to analyze the workings of City Hall and the fictional Baltimore Sun more consistently. This week, I got what I wished for, but not in the way I had envisioned.

The members of the group all seemed to root for Baltimore Mayor Tommy Carcetti, the wunderkind who successfully challenged the city’s black machine in season five and won the mayoralty. I was surprised that there would be so much empathy for the newbie mayor, but the Thugs love the underdog. And, much to my surprise, they are avid political junkies.

“If I was that brother, you know what I’d tell the mayor?” Kool J said, referring to Norman Wilson, Carcetti’s close confidant. “I’d tell him, ‘There’s only one way to solve a crime problem. Make it a gang thing.'”

“Yup,” said Orlando. “My uncle was a [police] commander in Florida. Always told me that if you see the police go after the gangs, that means they’re hiding the fact that they can’t catch nobody else. They can’t stop something else that’s going on.”

“So instead of hiding the 22 Marlo Stanfield murders and playing it down, the mayor should make it out to be a gang war?” I asked.

“Which it is?” yelled Kool J, frustrated that Carcetti was wasting his time trying to take down the Maryland governor. “See, you always go after the street [men]. Whenever you get in real trouble — I don’t mean just low-level [stuff], but real trouble — you always go after the local boys. But that white boy is scared. He needs to take control, or else he won’t be around much longer.”

“So, let’s say he does that,” I replied. “That doesn’t mean crime goes down, or that homeless people get off the streets, or that the city gets more money for its budget, or that the black party leaders endorse him.”

“You know why Dinkins was a fool, [an] outright stupid fool?” asked Shine, who loves to discredit former New York City Mayor David Dinkins. “He let [Rudy] Giuliani get control of the streets. See, most black men, when they get in office, they start clamping down on [other black men]. But Dinkins was too soft, and when you’re soft, people get distracted, start focusing on other s–t. With Giuliani, as long as that white man was arresting the gangs, no one noticed nothing else. Those were hard days for us.”

“Hard for the working man, huh?” I said sarcastically.

“My brother,” Orlando chimed in, “you think all we know is the streets? You don’t think we know how downtown works?”

“Well, what are Carcetti’s options, then?” I asked. “And, for that matter, what about our boy Gus at the Sun? How does he solve the troubles at the paper?” The Thugs were silent, but I could see them mulling over my question.

“The mayor needs to do what I said,” Kool J reiterated. “Then, he makes sure the brother, [Senator Clay] Davis gets off. [Carcetti] has to make sure that he stays out of jail.”

“Yes, yes!” said Flavor, rising from his seat and grabbing a chicken wing. “I’d go right after Davis, tell him, ‘I can get you off, but you owe me!’ Yup, that’s what I’d do.”

Shine then explained that Clay Davis had been beholden to a number of interests — businesses, political ties, thugs in the underworlds, etc. But these ties of influence may not bail him out, and Davis has been growing desperate for a new source of help. Carcetti could take advantage of Davis’s vulnerability with an early intervention: if he bails out the senator, then he basically wins control of the State Legislature, because Davis has so much dirt on other city and state politicians that they would be forced to work for him in the long run. With this as his political base, Carcetti would effectively win the gubernatorial election.

“But to get there,” Shine said wryly, “Carcetti is going to have to turn the other way when Davis gets his bags of money. See, you can’t get nothing for free.”

“Right, see that’s why this is some interesting s–t,” said Orlando. “You got a mayor that hasn’t done any real back door deals yet. That’s why he’s in trouble. Once he makes his first move, he’ll see that you got to be in bed with all the other [guys] if you want to run the city.”

After devising Carcetti’s strategy, they turned to Gus.

“Gus is a tough [guy],” Orlando said, nodding his head. “My brother’s got some big skeletons in his closet. I think he’s going to quit. Matter of fact, I’ll tell you how it’s going to go down. First, he’s going to call a meeting with somebody — maybe someone on the [co-op], or a cop, or some higher up, or maybe Omar. As soon as he finds out about Marlo taking over, and the murders, he’ll get that s–t into the paper. Big story about how the police are hiding s–t, you know, that kind of corruption that papers love talking about. His bosses won’t like it, because they want that feel-good stuff about the homeless.”

“But what’s in it for him? Why do that?” I asked. “Let’s say he gets the story. He may still get kicked out of the paper, no?”

Shine spoke slowly: “My uncle was a reporter in New York. Told me something I’ll never forget. Newspapers are just like n—-rs on the street. If they’re in a fire, the first thing they do is find somebody to blame; then they put it out. Just like these cats around here: they’ll sell you out for a buck.”

“Gus has to think about what to do next — just like we all do on the street,” Kool J said quietly. “But, I think he’s too soft. I think he’ll find out this serial killing is a bunch of bulls–t, get the white boy fired, and go right back to his desk.”

“How do you figure?” Orlando challenged Kool J. “What makes you think he’s so different?”

“You got three people who do the right thing: Bunk, Omar, and Gus. Three black men who live by their word.” As soon as Kool J said this, my mind turned to the meeting of Omar and the Bunk in the previous season, in which each expressed his belief that a man is only as good as his “code” of honor.

“Have any of you ever met anyone who was good to their word like that?” I asked. “I mean in real life, on the streets, in your neighborhood. Anybody?”




You are incorrect. They bet on whether Marlo would kill Prop Joe, or visa versa. Why would they bet on something if they already knew what happened? And as far as Clay Davis, their predictions aren't even right.


Hey, I got hooked on your blog about The Wire and you seemed to have abandoned it. Please, please, will there be more??????


This blog was providing me with a much needed Wire burst while i patiently wait for final eps to be shown on TV.Now this may be over too.I literally cannot take it.More please.Doesnt this Sociologist understand Wire fans are like junkies for the show and any info,discussion or insight related to the show.Come back to us.

Whilst were here waiting.Any predictions for finale.Im thinking Barksdale gets out.And God willing,Marlow falls.



Where is Part 7? We're all waiting!


I'm pretty sure one of your guys knew Prop Joe had a source, so i was pretty stoked when that came out. Surprised there was no mention of that.


What happened to the confab of thugs to discuss all the "inspirational" comments/predictions on the show's direction??


i think orlando's got it half-right: gus will end up walking off the paper in disgust, but not because of any blowback about something he printed on marlo. gus will not printing anything about marlo stansfield.


Ari, you're right, Shine correctly predicted in the episode 2 recap that Joe had "a fly." Though he assumed it would be someone in the BPD, not the State's Attorney's office.

B K Ray

It is funny/notfunny that no one of them knew a man of his word, what a myth that is, but not just on the streets. As any good ecomomist would conclude, the right amount of pressure and your closest peer with double-cross you in a heart beat, it just is not always going to cost you your life. And if they don't sell you out, it does not mean they well not sell someone else out with a quickness.


You guys should record this stuff as you watch the episodes. It would make great commentary for the DVD release!


Second Graf - you meant to say Season 4 instead of Season 5. (Season 5 is now.)

No comments from the gallery about Omar Little's superman trick - and resulting broken(?) leg that heals in a few days?


I was raised on, and for about a decade made a living on, "the streets." I eventually left for the frequently even less reputable business of journalism, and for a while I was a reporter covering a state capitol.

I often found that explaining the politics at work in the state ledge to my colleagues in the newsroom took a bit of work.

But it always seemed the thugs I grew up with just got it -- they always showed an intuitive grasp of hardball politics that would make Karl Rove blush and Machiavelli proud.


@ Dennis . . . hey, yeah! How did Omar heal his leg . . . after setting it himself? I'd LOVE to hear what the "Real Thugs" have to say about THAT one!


i'm not feeling all this discussion/speculation about upcoming events on the wire.
of course the thugs can do as they please cause its their, and sudhir's, blog.
i just enjoy this page very much week by week and would hate it if some joker destroyed the last few wires for me or something like that.
keep it up venkatesh, loving it! can't wait to read your book.

Sean F.

William, Morgan is saying that the real "thugs" had already downloaded and watched episodes 1-7 before they made their predictions, and simply pretended to be predicting when if fact they knew what was going to happen. While this is possible (I watched up through episode 7 roughly one month before the show returned to HBO), I doubt it. I don't believe that these guys sat down in front of a computer and searched torrents to download. The writing is simply so good on The Wire that it reflects real life. These guys are calling it like they see it.

john harper

yeah, this i do not understand. the NY Times, the world's most famous paper, spends time and money on stuff like that front page wedding dress article with that soft core porn picture, but this...one of the best things ive ever read on here, seems to have stopped.

I'm really hoping it's just a little late, because honestly, i wanted this to become some new feature. can you imagine, real doctors and lawyers and thugs and police officers watching all these shows that supposedly reflect what it's really like for them. how great would it be to see their real feedback for every show on tv

John S.

See Sudhir Venkatesh talk about his latest book on CSPAN-2 (BookTV):

Saturday, February 16, at 8:00 PM EST
Monday, February 18, at 2:00 AM EST



Loving the fresh insight and predictions from criminal minds. Whens the next blog? Keep em coming



This discussion is the next best thing to each Wire episode being two hours long. Great stuff.

Could you let us know on your home page if you're discontinuing it? Thanks.

john harper

oh hell no. i literally looked forward to this every week. they can't stop now. where's the update!