Avon Barksdale

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Avon Barksdale
The Wire Avon.jpg
First appearance "The Target" (episode 1.01)
Last appearance "Unconfirmed Reports" (episode 5.02)
Created by David Simon
Portrayed by Wood Harris
Information
Gender Male
Occupation Prisoner/Former Drug kingpin/philanthropist
Family Brianna Barksdale (sister), D'Angelo Barksdale (nephew)

Avon Randolph Barksdale is a fictional character on the HBO drama The Wire portrayed by actor Wood Harris. Avon is the dominant drug dealer of Baltimore's West Side, running the Barksdale Organization. He runs the West Baltimore drug trade with total autonomy.

Avon was counseled in his drug business by attorney Maurice Levy and assisted by his sister Brianna Barksdale and childhood friend Stringer Bell, who was responsible for the economics of the drug business as Avon's second-in-command. Below Bell was a large organization of drug dealers and enforcers, including Avon's nephew D'Angelo Barksdale, son of Brianna Barksdale. Accepting nothing less than absolute power, Avon is interested only in controlling the drug trade in West Baltimore, believing that the control of territory is key to such objective.

He is hot-tempered, very concerned with his image on the street, and quick to send violent warnings to other crews. He is also shrewd and intuitive, though not as cerebral as Stringer. Avon was partly based on real-life gang leader Nathan Barksdale who ran a drug selling operation in West Baltimore.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Barksdale grew up in the terrace high-rises. Although as of season 1 Barksdale had no criminal record—his juvenile record is said to have been expunged. Up until the Barksdale Investigation, Barksdale remained a furtive but increasingly powerful force on the west side of Baltimore's drug trade. Avon is the son of Butch Stamford, though no father is listed on his birth certificate. Stamford was an infamous Baltimore criminal, whose name is known by both the police and other drug traffickers. Avon, a former amateur boxer who once fought in a Golden Gloves Tournament, was taught by his father how to survive in "the game" at an early age.

Criminal organization[edit]

At the beginning of the series, Avon has control of the entire West Baltimore drug trade. His territory included the prized Franklin Terrace tower blocks and a nearby low-rise housing project, referred to as "the pit". Avon ran the organization as a hierarchy with himself at the top and Stringer directly below him. They were both isolated from the drugs, handling only money. Avon himself kept an extremely low profile, eschewing overt displays of wealth so as not to attract attention, avoiding being photographed, not having a driver's license, and owning nothing in his own name. He retained attorney Maurice Levy, who advised him on how to counter police investigations and represented members of the Barksdale organization at hearings and trials.

Avon had a number of enforcers for protection, contract killings, and intimidation work, including his old friend Wee-Bey Brice. He had several lieutenants reporting to him, each responsible for trade in a different area, with some receiving a percentage of the profits ("points on the package") of the narcotics they sold. Beneath the lieutenants there was typically a second-in-command and below them several drug dealers. The dealers would each have a particular role: "touts" were responsible for attracting customers; "runners" would deliver drugs to the customer; "look-outs" were responsible for watching for police or stick-up gangs approaching; or handling the money and the level of supply. Each dealer would receive a weekly cash payment for their work from the lieutenant above them.

Every member of the organization was subject to strict rules designed to thwart police investigations. The dealers were not allowed to carry cell phones or take drugs. They were all aware of how to deal with police interrogation and knew that the organization would protect them up to a point, but if they turned on Avon they would be killed. Lieutenants and enforcers carried pagers so that they could be contacted. They were subject to the same rules as the dealers, but also knew not to talk business in cars, public places or with anyone outside of the organization. Such discussions were limited to property and territory owned by the Barksdale organization.

A strict telephone usage policy was applied rigidly throughout the organization. The pager messages were encoded to prevent easy tracing of the telephones used, all of which were public telephones. The code was based on simple use of the telephone keypad - numbers were swapped with their opposite across the number five, and five was exchanged with zero, making it accessible to poorly-educated drug dealers. Each pager-carrying member of the organization was identified by a number. When pages were returned with a phone call no names were supposed to be used, and if a name was used, the speaker was rebuked. A separate code was used for resupply signals, which involved turning the pager display upside down.

Avon received his narcotics supply through a connection to a Dominican organization in New York and had several other options for suppliers in surrounding cities. The main supply of narcotics was separated from the rest of the organization and held in a house in Pimlico where it could be cut and divided into smaller "stashes" for distribution among the Barksdale towers. Once inside the towers, these smaller packages were moved from room to room on a regular basis, to avoid the scrutiny of police and stick-up men such as Omar Little.

Avon's main office was one of his front organizations, a strip club named Orlando's. It was here, behind a locked and heavily guarded door, that the drug money was counted and secured before being sent on to its ultimate destination. Avon usually conducted his business in this office, rarely venturing onto the street. The club's legal owner, Orlando Blocker, was kept away from the drugs in order to maintain the front's appearance of legitimacy for the city.

The organization laundered its profits through various fronts, including a funeral parlor, Orlando's, and a property developing company named B&B. It also invested in property, never actually using either Avon or Stringer's names on official papers. It also made campaign contributions—and later bribes—to Senator Clay Davis, ostensibly for assistance with development contracts.

Season one[edit]

The Barksdale Organization (season one)

Avon's errant nephew and lieutenant D'Angelo had murdered someone in public, so Avon had Stringer pay a witness, Nakeesha Lyles, to change her story in court. D'Angelo was acquitted, but Avon chastised him for costing the organization time and money, and demoted him from the 221 Tower into "The Pit" to replace Ronnie Mo, who had recently been promoted to his own tower. Avon also arranged for "Bird" Hilton to murder a second witness, William Gant, whom he had been unable to intimidate or bribe. The body was left on display outside the 221 Tower, to send a message to people who might consider testifying. D'Angelo was shaken by the murder and began to have second thoughts about his life, but Avon persuaded him to remain loyal to the family.

Avon was angered when The Pit's stash was robbed by legendary Baltimore stick-up man Omar Little, and he placed a heavy bounty on Omar and his crew (nearly doubling it upon realizing Omar was homosexual). Wee-Bey killed Bailey, a member of Omar's crew. Omar's lover Brandon was captured and tortured by Stringer, Wee-Bey, Bird and Stinkum. In response, Omar killed Stinkum and wounded Wee-Bey, culminating with a failed assassination attempt on Avon outside of Orlando's. Wee-Bey managed to save Avon at the last minute.

The Pit was also subject to raids which seized a second resupply of narcotics and arrested a carrier Kevin Johnston and a dealer Robert Browning. The police also seized an entire day's profits from Wee-Bey, totalling $22,000. They also briefly seized a payment on its way to State Senator Davis but were forced to return it because of his political influence. The robbery and police activity combined raised suspicion that there was a leak in the pit, and an increasingly paranoid Avon ordered D'Angelo to remove the pay phones (which had indeed been wiretapped).

Barksdale's front man Orlando had been trying to take part in the drug trade, and Avon felt obliged to beat him, warning him that the only reason he was front man was because he was clean. Orlando persisted in trying to go into the business for himself, and was arrested by an undercover state police officer. Avon promptly has his name removed from the club's license. Orlando agreed to aid the police in their investigation, and Avon sent Wee-Bey, Little Man and Savino to kill him. The job was complicated when they found a woman accompanying Orlando and Little Man panicked and shot her. Avon quickly learned that the woman was Detective Greggs.

The shooting of a detective led to a massive crackdown from the police. Savino was forced to turn himself in, but faced a sentence of just three years for drug charges because he was not directly implicated in the shooting. Avon and Stringer held a crisis meeting with attorney Maurice Levy, who advised them to remove any possible loose ends. Avon ordered several murders, including unreliable enforcer Little Man, bribed witness Nakeesha Lyles and a young dealer from The Pit named Wallace.

Avon finally incriminated himself on a hidden camera in his office sending D'Angelo to pick up a package of drugs. He was arrested on charges of possession with intent to distribute, but as this was the only arrest he had ever incurred he was sentenced to a total of seven years with possibility of parole.

Season two[edit]

The Barksdale Organization (season two)

Avon continued to run his organization from within the prison through Stringer. D'Angelo and Wee-Bey were imprisoned alongside Avon, both due to serve much longer terms. Wee-Bey informed Avon that a prison guard, Dwight Tilghman, was harassing him, in retaliation for the murder of a relative. Avon tried to reason with Tilghman, but the guard refused to talk to him. Knowing that Tilghman had a sideline in smuggling narcotics into the prison, Avon contrived to supply him with tainted heroin, causing numerous deaths. When the warden began an investigation, Avon came forth as an "informant", accusing Tilghman of the crime. Narcotics were found in Tilghman's car, and Avon's first parole hearing was brought forward in exchange for the information. Despite being the one ultimately responsible for the crime, he is due to be out of jail within a year. D'Angelo grows more distant from Avon, refusing to take part in the scheme, and seeming depressed, even turning to drug use. Without Avon's knowledge, Stringer has D'Angelo killed in a fake suicide.

Because Avon's arrest was closely followed by the arrest of one of their suppliers, the New York-based Dominicans were suspicious that Avon might have named them to receive a lighter sentence, and the business relationship was brought to an end. Avon recommended secondary sources to Stringer but was unable to secure anything much better. Stringer tells Avon that Proposition Joe has offered to provide his high-quality heroin in exchange for letting Joe's men work on some of Avon's prime territory. Avon quickly dismissed the idea, reminding Stringer how hard they worked to seize the territory in the first place. However, Stringer eventually decides to allow Proposition Joe to move in despite Avon's order. Not knowing that Stringer had agreed to the arrangnment behind his back, Avon contracted the feared Brother Mouzone to defend his turf. Stringer responds by tricking Omar into believing that Mouzone tortured and killed his former boyfriend Brandon. Omar shoots Mouzone, but lets him live after realizing things didn't add up. Mouzone returns to New York to recover from his wound and Avon reluctantly agrees to Proposition Joe's proposal.

Season three[edit]

The Barksdale Organization (season three)

Upon his release from prison, Avon is showered with gifts by Stringer: a nightclub, a penthouse apartment, expensive clothes, a new SUV. Avon, while appreciative of Stringer's largesse, is outraged that Stringer has let their control over their territory slip as much as it has, and gets involved in a gang war with up-and-coming drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield. Avon employed a woman named Devonne through Slim Charles to find Marlo. She encounters Marlo in a bar, seduces him, and gives him her phone number so they can meet up again. When they later plan to meet up, it becomes clear that a trap has been set and Marlo's enforcer Chris Partlow shoots and kills a Barksdale crew member named Tater and wounds Avon in the process. Later, Marlo finds Devonne and shoots her dead in front of her home.

When two "hitters" in his organization, under the direction of Stringer, attempt a hit on Omar as he accompanies his grandmother to church, Avon is angered by the breach of a long standing tradition of an unspoken truce on Sunday mornings. Omar's elderly grandmother loses her hat during the failed hit. Avon is also worried by rumors of "Omar's granny getting shot in the ass" and the shooters "pissing on her hat" circulating amongst rival gangs. After letting the soldiers responsible wait for hours at headquarters, he tells Stringer that the only repercussions he would impose on them would be to require them to buy Omar's grandmother a new hat.

At the beginning of the season, Avon makes an effort to recruit Dennis "Cutty" Wise into the organization, due to Cutty's legendary past as a soldier and his and Avon's near-coincident release dates (Cutty's imprisonment having lasted 14 years). Cutty joins the group for a time but soon admits that the game is not in him anymore. Avon, disappointed but understanding, allows the old soldier to go on respectful terms. Later, when Cutty asks for $10,000 to help start a gym for neighborhood boys, Avon happily offers him $15,000 cash.

Avon and Stringer continue to clash over their conflicting methods of leadership; Proposition Joe tells Stringer that he will withhold his supply of high-quality drugs from the Barksdale organization if Avon's war with Stanfield continues, but Avon believes that giving in to Stanfield will make the organization look weak and diminish its standing. During an argument with Avon, Stringer reveals that he had D'Angelo killed for the good of the organization. The revelation damages their relationship irreparably. In an effort to return Avon to prison and thereby remove him as an obstacle to Stringer's business aims, Stringer contacts Major Colvin and reveals the location of Avon's weapons safehouse. Meanwhile, Brother Mouzone returns to Baltimore and confronts Avon about Stringer's attempt to engineer a conflict between Mouzone and Omar. Mouzone threatens to use his connections to cut off the Barksdale organization's supply of drugs from New York and destroy Avon's credibility. In an effort to avoid a war with Mouzone, Avon reluctantly provides Mouzone with information about Stringer's whereabouts as a result of their seemingly irreconcilable philosophical differences in how to run the organization, and Mouzone (along with Omar) kills Stringer. Avon privately admits to Slim Charles that, contrary to rumors that Stringer fell at the hands of Stanfield's crew, Stringer actually died because of "some other shit." Depressed, Avon concedes that he has come around to Stringer's point of view and is tired of "beefing over a couple fuckin' corners." Slim retorts that they are already in a war, and even if the premise for it is false, they must still fight on it.

Avon was ultimately arrested again; based on evidence that Stringer provided, police raided Barksdale's wartime safehouse and were able to put weapons and conspiracy charges on all those present. Barksdale's presence at the time of the arrest constituted a parole violation which mandates serving the remaining five years of his seven-year sentence. Barksdale's lieutenants claim ownership of all the weapons, suggesting that the state's attorney will have a difficult time pinning any further charges on him. At the montage at the end of season three, Barksdale sits at the defense table at a court room with all those apprehended during the bust sitting behind him. The shot has no dialog, so it is unclear just how long Barksdale would be in prison, but it can not be less than five years, and there is a small chance that he received an additional 25 years for conspiracy to commit murder and weapons charges.[1][2]

Season five[edit]

Marlo Stanfield arranged a meeting with former Greek soldier Sergei Malatov at the Jessup Correctional Facility in the hopes of contacting The Greeks and Spiros Vondas. When he arrived, Marlo was surprised to find Avon on the other side of the prison glass. Avon revealed that he was still a man with a formidable reputation in the prison, and that Sergei had approached him once he began receiving direct payments from Marlo in order to get on Sergei's visiting list. Avon explained that he had intuited Marlo's plan of using Sergei to contact Vondas. Avon stated that he agreed, philosophically, with Marlo's plan to get around Proposition Joe & the other Eastsiders and cut them out of the supply connection (this could also be due to Joe's past dealings with Stringer behind Avon's back). Avon playfully espoused love for Westsiders and stated that he was prepared to let bygones be bygones in regards to his war with Stanfield. However, he informed Marlo that in order to gain access to Sergei, Marlo would have to pay Avon's sister $100,000. Marlo agreed, made the payment, and at his next visit to Jessup, Avon granted him access to Sergei. As Marlo and Sergei talked, Avon oversaw their meeting. Sergei was initially uninterested in cooperating with Stanfield's plan and refers to him dismissively, but is swayed when Marlo points out that if any arrangement he can make with Vondas are beneficial to the Greeks, it would be Sergei who "made it happen". By the end of the series, Stanfield's second-in-command Chris Partlow has made peace with Barksdale's organization as well, as he is seen fraternizing with Barksdale's soldier Wee-Bey in the Jessup prison yard. [3]

Origins[edit]

David Simon has disputed that any one individual is the model for any specific character in The Wire.[4] He has stated on The Wire DVD that Barksdale is a composite of several Baltimore drug dealers. However, Avon Barksdale is likely based, to some extent, on at least two notorious Baltimore drug dealers: Melvin Williams (who plays the character of The Deacon),[5][6] and Nathan Barksdale.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Org Chart - The Street". HBO. 2004. Archived from the original on 11 April 2006. Retrieved 2006-03-29. 
  2. ^ "Character profile - Avon Barksdale". HBO. 2004. Archived from the original on 11 April 2006. Retrieved 2006-03-29. 
  3. ^ Ernest Dickerson (2008-01-13). "Unconfirmed Reports". The Wire. Season 5. Episode 2. HBO.
  4. ^ "Last Word: Nathan "Bodie" Barksdale and Kenny Jackson tell their versions of Baltimore's street life in The Baltimore Chronicles: Legends of the Unwired | Baltimore City Paper". Citypaper.com. Retrieved 2011-08-24. 
  5. ^ [1][dead link]
  6. ^ Glenny, Misha (2008-09-13). "David Simon: Mean streets". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  7. ^ "Last Word: Nathan "Bodie" Barksdale and Kenny Jackson tell their versions of Baltimore's street life in The Baltimore Chronicles: Legends of the Unwired | Baltimore City Paper". Citypaper.com. Retrieved 2011-08-24.