What Do Real Thugs Think of The Wire? Part Two

Last week, Freakonomics guest blogger Sudhir Venkatesh sat down with a group of current and former gang members to watch “The Wire.” This week, he took time out from touring for his new book (see reviews here, here, and here) to meet up with them again for Episode Two.

What price, a cop? I posed this question to several self-described “thugs” after the airing of the second episode of The Wire, season five. Once I saw Detective McNulty tamper with a homicide scene — apparently hoping to raise speculation that a serial killer is at large in Baltimore — I knew that the ex-gangsters would be salivating. And I was right.

“White boy would be my bitch in about five minutes,” said Shine, a 43-year-old self-proclaimed “New Yorker to the core,” referring to the rogue detective. “When you see a cop losing his head like that — drinking, acting crazy — you go after it. That’s like m—er f—ing Christmas in the ‘hood!”

And so my lesson on policing, ghetto-style, began.

Shine explained that the greatest prize for the thug is a cop on the take — or one willing to start down that road. “Just look at Prop Joe,” he said matter-of-factly. “Ain’t no way a fat man like that don’t sweat. That’s ’cause he’s got a fly” (meaning a “fly on the wall” — I hadn’t heard the term before).

Kool-J, another member of the thug group, elaborated: “In all the days I was slanging [drugs], I had one fly who helped me.” His voice was nostalgic, as if he was describing childhood summers on the Jersey shore. “But everyone wants a cop like that. That’s why they don’t last long. It’s like fishing in the river. Most of what you catch is small and scraggly. You know, stupid cops who want ten dollars or a d–k suck. But McNulty, he’s the big one! If I was there, I’d get him, give him what he wants — information. Then he’s all mine!”

The “fly fees” are not cheap, I discovered. Flavor, the youngest of the group, said he would need to pay $2,500 minimum a month for a cop, and “$5,000 if they start giving you good s–t.” Orlando said he conducted business using “cars, jewelry, or women,” none of which, apparently, leave a trail.

When pushed, all of them pointed out that few cops actually were willing to accept monetary bribes. “Most just want a little p–sy, or to beat a black man now and then,” Shine said. “It’s sad, really. I wish more of them took our money. It would make our [lives] a lot easier.”

While the actions of McNulty brought out the greatest commentary, coming in at a close second was Marlo’s end-run around the Co-op. Picking up the theme of Week 1, there was general agreement that Marlo would knock off Prop Joe. But another prediction emerged: that Omar would dispose of Marlo.

“That little f—-t is going to win,” Orlando said assuredly. “You watch: he’ll knock Marlo out, take the body to Bunk, and then go and get his d–k sucked.”

Flavor laid down $2,500 for another wager: “I say Barksdale comes back and kills everyone! That [guy] is the real thing!”

I’m thinking of taking this bet; I’ve called Countrywide for a short-term (subprime) loan.

Kool-J went one step further. “Marlo and The Bunk will do the nasty.” That was too much to bear. My Bunk? Selling his body for justice? Say it ain’t so!

Meanwhile, none of them showed any interest in the affairs of the Baltimore Sun.

Jeff Milner

In Freakonomics we read that most drug dealers are actually poor. What's with all the $2,500 wagers?

Jay B

It's sad that my comments about questioning the authenticity of the "thug roundtable discussion" were not approved by the blog administrator. Which makes me wonder why they had to censor it considering it wasn't abusive. To quote Norman Wilson from 'The Wire,' "I like a photo to go with my story."


David Cay Johnston, author of Free Lunch, was just on Democracy Now! explaining how budget cuts for parks/etc. causes the increase in gang activity.



At the same time that we're doing this, we are starving our public parks for money. And I show in Free Lunch how the rise of urban gangs and now suburban gangs is connected to this. We used to have all sorts of programs in this country after World War II for young men and young women on Saturdays and during the summer and school holidays, where even if you didn't have any money-didn't matter that your parents didn't have any money, because-and I know this because I did it as a child-you could go to any one of a half-dozen different places, and there were organized activities to keep you out of trouble. After all, idle hands are the devil's workshop is not exactly a radical new idea. Well, we've cut and cut and cut those programs to fund two different subsidies: one to sports teams' owners, one that goes to Tyco, General Electric, Honeywell and some other big companies. And, lo and behold, we've had a big rise in urban violence because of the vacuum being filled by young people who no longer have these organized activities.



Alot of the characters/story lines on the show are real. The politicians are actual folks that behave and look exactly like the actors. Clay Davis can be figured out by a simple google search of embezzling senators in Baltimore. The first episode this season was about a gentleman's club owner who served time for murder yet the city treats him better than most developers. That guy (in real life) was the #1 lieutenant for the guy who plays the preacher on the show (see American Gangster episode on Lil Melvin)who was once one of Baltimore's most notorious drug dealers. He was obviously taken down by Wire co-creator Ed Burns (when he was a cop) in a series of wire taps, yet brought in as an actor/consultant after he paid his debt to society. The way heroin is sold in Bmore is pretty accurate, testers, re-ups, etc. Cops are currently incarcerated for being on the payroll (see the Stop Snitchin' video). The lawyer for Clay Davis is the actual lawyer-- same name and everything-- he once defended the most notorious drug dealer in the region (Rayful Edmond). The Barksdales exist, crazy homo stick up kids exists, speak with people in Bmore and you will see how much crime, politics, police are intertwined-- it's almost incestuous.

Here's an insider scoop on the media angle:

"Well my wife was at the Baltimore Sun when the first round of buyouts (creator David Simon was there as well) occurred and I was at the Sun through the last round of buyouts (2005 maybe?). You don't have to be a writer, newspapers (at least the Sun) have two types of employees unionized (guilded) and non-union (non-guilded).

The Sun (Tribune) reaches an agreement with the union on what's "fair" (lube/no lube). The first round of buyouts were way better than the last. I know of 30-40K/year employees getting maybe 200K if they agreed on a buyout, the amount is determined on salary and seniority. The terms of the last was like maybe 10K for every 2 years of service. Most of the people offered buyouts had been there 20+ years.

The biggest problem not just for the writers, but moreso the non-writers, is they had been performing a newspaper function for over 30 years, and their skillset was applicable only to the newspaper industry, and until recently Baltimore only had one major paper. So unless they relocated, which wasn't an option giving the industry failing everywhere, you have mid-lifers trying to learn new skills for employment.

The biggest issue is the newspapers are still profitable, yet they don't make the kajillions they used to, so the millions they make a year don't satisfy the shareholders. The more news you read online the less the paper sells on the street. The less it sells on the street, the less the paper can charge for advertising. You gotta figure Craigslist & Ebay alone killed the entire Classfied advertising business. Who the heck places a classified ad anymore, and the cost of the ad has bottomed out and they soon will be offered for free.

As far as retail advertising mergers and aquisitions put a ginormous dent in advertising revenue.

Here's an example (fake numbers):

AT&T - $1M a month
Cingular -$1M a month
Sprint- $1M a month
Nextel- $1M a month
Macy's- $1M a month
Goldsmiths- $1M a month

Add that up that's $6 Million a month in revenue. AT&T merges with Cingular, Sprint & Nextel merge, Macy's and Goldsmith's merge, now we have:

AT&T/Cingular- $1M a month
Sprint/Nextel- $1M a month
Macy's/Goldsmith's- $1M a month

Now we're making $3 million a month. Half of what we made per month last year. So over a year that's $36 million in losses. Revenue cut in half, workforce cut. There goes your buyout."



Practically every comment above gushes about what "great commentary" this blog gimmick is. Any chance that it's too "great" to be true?

To me, the post reads like a writer writing "real thug" dialogue with the luxuries of doing so in very small doses and never having to reveal the "sources."

Maybe I'm in too cynical a mindset from watching "The Wire" (and I certainly don't have any basis to level an accusation besides my B.S. radar), but this smacks of Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass M.O.


Can we get commentary like this every week? This is great.

lovin it

honestly, this might be the best reporting i've seen by the NY Times in years. no censorship. just real people evaluating this incredibly realistic tv show. you have to keep doing this every week. i keep showing this to everyone and they thin kit's a great idea.


Agreed with the comments above-- this is great commentary, weekly would be excellent.


Thirding the two comments above. PLEASE make this a weekly feature of your excellent blog!


Fourth on that. Having no inside track to understanding The Wire, this commentary is invaluable. Also, the thugs are hilarious. They remind me of my old X-Files watching gang.


I agree. This is one of the most entertaining things I've ever read on NYT. Keep it going!


Fascinating, completely agree with the comments above. Although, I do wonder what curse f--t could be....


think a bundle of sticks....


Definitely good reading and about the most interesting thing from Freakonomics recently. But what's with the cheesy censoring of swearing? It just highlights how far removed the NYT is from this world that Sudhir is reporting on. I can sort of see f--k, but d--k? Come on. It's not even in George Carlin's seven words.

Mike B.

This needs its own blog, ASAP.

baltiless fan

[[Spoiler alerts, obviously]]
Fascinating. I'd like to know what their opinion on Barksdale helping Marlo run around Prop Joe (by getting ahold of the Greeks).

Would the in-group feeling of "Westside vs Eastside" really be enough to overcome the fact that Marlo took over Barksdale's corners by force, resulting (indirectly) in his imprisonment? Or is he maybe expecting to double-cross him? I can't see how the logic of the street would let him forgive-and-forget everything that happened in the 3rd season.


Speaking of Barksdale, doesn't it feel like Avon is a bit too chummy w/ Marlo and is actually scheming on him?


Jeff, those were the runners, or corner kids. I have a feeling the guys with whom SV is watching the show are/were higher-ups.

If it's not going to be a blog by itself, this needs to be a weekly thing, definitely.

PS- are there any other looks at this show with those part of the game? I know Heaven and Here isn't written by ex-bangers.


Please post this every week, real insight and funny to boot. Keep it up!