What Do Real Thugs Think of The Wire? Part Seven

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

The Thugs were bored. Episode 7 failed to move them.

“Too slow,” griped Shine.

“They’re making us wait,” said Orlando. “See, that’s when this stuff gets unreal. When they start making you feel like you could actually get somewhere in the ghetto.”

“What do you mean, ‘get somewhere?’” I asked.

“In the ‘hood, everything changes. Nothing happens the right way,” he replied.

“Give me an example,” I said.

“Well, like what’s happening with Marlo and Omar,” he replied right away. “In the ghetto, you never have this kind of thing last so long. People kill each other right away, or not at all.”

“Ever heard the term, ’3-day work week?’” Tony-T interrupted. I shook my head. “Well, it means that, in the hood, nothing lasts. I mean nothing! People are so poor that they can’t even afford a 7-day work week.”

“So, one of the two — Omar or Orlando — would have killed the other?” I asked.

“Yup,” said Shine. “And my bet is that Omar is getting a little stupid. Looks like he’s hurting. But my bet is that both will be done with by the time this is over.”

Then he asked if we could go over some of the comments that Freakonomics readers had made a few weeks ago, after episode 4, when the Thugs asked readers to assess what would happen between Omar and Marlo. I printed out the 100+ responses, and here’s a quick-and-dirty evaluation by the Thugs:

1. No Future
“These people are crazy!” Orlando began, referring to the commenters. “Bloggers, they think they can predict what’s happening in the ghetto. Rule number 1: there is no future.” When I asked Orlando what he meant, he said that most of the responses thought too far in advance. “The one thing I don’t like about this show is you never make plans when you’re hustling. Not for more than a few days, anyway.”

2. Insurance for Whom?
The Thugs liked the comment from “d” about insurance. Apparently, what separates the Greeks (and everyone else outside the ghetto) from people on the streets is that the former can obtain insurance policies.

“Marlo tried to get his own supply line, you know, just in case. But that kind of thing never happens if you’re on the streets,” Shine said. “Of course, you always want a second option. You always want another source for product, somebody else who can get you a gun, but you can’t get so easily.”

“That’s right,” said Kool J. “For those Greeks, they can move around because they’re not from anywhere. But around here, everyone is spoken for by somebody. If people see that you’re trying to get security by lining up with more than one group at a time, they see you as vulnerable.”

“Why vulnerable?” I asked.

“You always align yourself with somebody, rise and fall with them. If people see you trying to making friends all over, then they think you have something to hide. That’s when they come in and take over.”

“See, that’s what makes the game the game,” Shine jumped in. “You live and die with those around you. You just have to be real careful when you’re juggling a lot of balls at once. People want to know where you stand. They could get nervous if they see you trying to get that kind of insurance policy.”

3. “The Look”
“I think Wiregirl is wrong about ‘the Look,’” Kool J blurted. “That only works when you [are] talking about killers. Where I hang out, everyone knows that there are only a few people who really can kill somebody. The rest of these fools don’t even put bullets in their guns. But any fool can stand on the corner and make a sale. That don’t take no brains. Just a little desperation.”

4. Will the Real Black Man Stand Up?
“Yo, Blue Moe!” Tony-T shouted, referring to comment 84. “Yeah, we believe you when you say you’re a Negro. Because no self-respecting black man would feel good about reading the New York Times. I got something for you: its called the Amsterdam News. Take a look at it, my brother. Its for the real Negroes.”

5. Need a Job, Alex?
“My brother, I like the way you think,” cried Orlando, referring to comment 96. “We’re rooting for Michael, too. And, by the way, do you need a job? If so, call me!”

6. Watching with the Police
“We asked Sudhir to watch it with the police, too, but he’s too scared,” said Shine, referring to comment 109. “We also told him to get a real job, but he wouldn’t do that, either.”

I didn’t disagree.

Overall, the Thugs were impressed. They had one question for the readers:

If the gangs were white, what would be different about the show?

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  1. Gary says:

    If the gangs were white, they’d have different names. White people would never name a gang “Bloods.” White people would name it Goldman Sachs, and instead of paying off cops, they pay off congress.

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  2. joe c. says:

    Well, according to the show itself, a gang composed of white or black members would operate the same. I mean isn’t that the overriding theme of the show; that no matter what, all institutions fall to the same problems of bureaucracy? So in that regard, a black or white gang would most likely pursue the same interests and advocate the same policies for the rank and file. In terms of the make up of the gang, I think you would see more family dynamics at play; as in the with the white gangs, each top guy would appear to have a son in waiting. This is absent from black urban gangs. Outside of the Barksdale crew, which is horizontal anyways, there is a lack of family element in the ranks of the gangs themselves. I think a show about white gangs would incorporate a much greater family presence/power struggle.

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  3. e40 says:

    If the gangs were white, what would be different about the show?

    Wasn’t that called 21 Jump Street?

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  4. Greg says:

    If they were white, they wouldn’t be doing business exposed on corners. They would operate independently, only being able to identify a few people above or below them in the hierarchy. I think protect their liability to exposure to the police through anonymity would take the place of threats and violence that are necessary in a large group.

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  5. john harper says:

    Sweet. Been waitin for this for days.

    Here’s a question for our resident “thugs.” Is there really no long term planning? I mean, things have hod to go bad enough times that those at the top try to look a little down the line and prepare for a raid, or a major person getting busted, or an interruption of the supply, or a new police tactic that interferes with things. How can you all be successful if people aren’t trying to look ahead to these things?

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  6. elhondo says:

    The white wire – only thing that comes to mind is Wall Street.

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  7. smperk says:

    I think white people are less likely to actually kill. Much like Kool J mentioned, I feel like actual murders are less common than portrayed in the show. By the way, this is based on absolutely nothing other than my white guy from DC feelings.

    Also, white gangs would have more Marlos. I feel like white people go behind backs and sneak up the ladder more (just look at politics).

    Sudhir, question for your acquaintances: What do you think about the presidential election? Also, can you envision a President who watches The Wire (Obama) having any impact on the gang life?

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  8. E Olson says:

    If the gangs were white:

    You might see more police bribery in the show. Don’t know if it’s more realistic, but that is what you see on TV.

    The show would be more fiction. Did you see American Pimp? They said you just don’t see white pimps – a white man just can’t pull it off. “Green for the money, gold for the honey,” Bishop Don Magic Juan.

    Tony T , Orlando, and Shine would not be watching the show

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