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What Do Real Thugs Think of The Wire? Part Three

Sudhir Venkatesh, our good friend and author of the new book “Gang Leader for a Day,” continues today with his weekly mission of watching “The Wire” with some real gang personnel and reporting on their reaction (and his). Your response to his previous posts has been enthusiastic. Typical comments: “More” and “Please post this every week!” Sudhir, in deference to our bright and polite readership, has agreed to do just that. Enjoy.

Thugs don’t cry.

At least that’s what I was told when I hung out in the projects.

This ghetto legend was quickly dispelled when I watched episode three of
The Wire with the usual cast of thugs from New York and New Jersey — ex-gang members and drug dealers who prided themselves on being impervious to emotional outbursts. These weren’t supposed to be girlie men.

But as soon as Butchie received the first of two gunshots to the knee, about 40 minutes into the show, a pall was cast over the assembled crew. Shine began the love-fest: “Oh sh-t! I can’t believe they f—ed with my man. And I had tall respect for Snoop.” He was referring to one of two henchmen Marlo had sent to forcibly obtain information from Butchie. “Never thought I’d see the day.”

“Oh sh-t!” Orlando shouted. “Butchie? He’s my boy. And a good, hard-working man don’t deserve this. He’s like my father.”

After a final shot to the head claimed Butchie’s life, Flavor couldn’t hide his disappointment. “I say we find Snoop and that other [guy, Chris], beat their black a– to death.”

“It’s a TV show,” I said, sarcastically. I was surprised at the display of pro-Butchie sentiment.

I was thrown a “f–k you” stare that only men with deep knowledge of hand-to-hand combat could give.

To refresh: Butchie is a confidante in the Baltimore ghettos. And a damn good one. Over the past four years, he has accumulated influence with politicos, cops, and the thugs on the street. He can find you a perp, a gun, a hideout, and a loan shark. Whatever you need. The ghetto’s version of E.F. Hutton; when Butchie talks, others listen.

Even though I was chiding Shine and the others in the room, I knew exactly why Butchie’s death led to misty eyes. None of the guys in this room could have survived on the streets without a Butchie in their pocket.

“We all have a Butchie,” Kool-J explained, rubbing his hands through his hair as he grasped the gravity of Butchie’s death. “One time, I got $10,000 worth of product stolen. I was held up. I had to make a payment to my bank [loanshark] in two days and I didn’t have any money. Problem was I was already late once — cost me a broken wrist. This time I was going to be shot in the knee, maybe even worse than that. My friend Buster got this real estate guy to loan me $10,000, at 30 percent interest, but it saved my life. Buster was my Butchie.”

Tony-T raised his drink in the air. “Many a time I called this man named Jo-Jo,” he said. “Eighty years old, and that [guy] knew every cop in Harlem. Whenever I had somebody out to kill me, Jo-Jo always got me a safe house. To Butchie! a [man] for all [men].” The others calmly raised their drinks. Orlando threw up a clenched fist. I searched for a box of Kleenex to pass around.

I knew many “Butchies” in Chicago. Most of these “brokers” were instrumental in saving the life of thugs like Kool-J and Tony-T. On this note, The Wire scores a point for authenticity: most of the brokers were small businessmen like Butchie who operated barber shops, lounges, bars, diners, and retail establishments. They didn’t make much money — the most successful person I met earned about $75,000 — but they tended to have personal security. That is, their businesses were stable and could be used to launder drug money, host important meetings among high-level community leaders, or hide someone who was in danger. And these brokers were rarely physically hurt or punished. You didn’t simply kill a broker; it was like going after a “made guy” in the Mafia.

For this reason, watching Butchie die shocked and awed.

And just when I thought the mood in the room wouldn’t lighten, from out of nowhere, the clouds parted and hope was restored. On a beach, somewhere in the Caribbean, Omar came into view.

“Yeah! There’s my man!” Shine shouted, spattering the hot-sauce-drenched pork rinds in his lap all over the floor.

“I knew that f—–t would come back,” Flavor rejoiced, beer spilling down his arm. “Get his a–, Omar. Get Marlo, that little b–ch.” Flavor jumped up and gave Orlando a high-five handshake.

Shine pumped his fist, turning to me with an “all is right in the world” glance.

As the credits rolled, Flavor began the round of betting anew. “A thousand dollars says in the last episode, Omar kills Marlo.”

“I got another thousand says Omar puts money in McNulty’s pocket,”
Tony-T yelped. “And my man Bunk is going to arrest them both!”

Bets were taken. A new bag of pork rinds was opened. Orlando poured the hot sauce in the bag and shook it up, grinning all the while.

Happiness had returned to the thugs. Good night and good luck.