|First appearance||"The Target" (episode 1.01)|
|Last appearance||"Mission Accomplished" (episode 3.12)|
|Created by||David Simon|
|Portrayed by||Idris Elba|
Russell "Stringer" Bell is a fictional character on the HBO drama The Wire, played by English actor Idris Elba. Bell served as drug kingpin Avon Barksdale's second-in-command, assuming direct control of the Barksdale Organization during Avon's imprisonment. Bell attends economics classes at Baltimore City Community College and maintains a personal library, including a copy of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. He attempts to legitimize the Barksdale Organization and insulate himself from direct criminality through money laundering and investments in housing development, aided through his buying of influence from politicians.
Stringer was born September 17, 1969, and grew up in the West Baltimore projects alongside childhood friends Avon Barksdale and Wee-Bey Brice.
Stringer is first seen attending the trial of Avon's nephew and lieutenant, D'Angelo Barksdale, for the murder of rival drug dealer "Pooh" Blanchard. Avon has tasked Stringer with ensuring that D'Angelo is acquitted. To this end, Stringer has enforcers Roland "Wee-Bey" Brice, Anton "Stinkum" Artis, and Savino intimidate and bribe witnesses over the course of the trial. When D'Angelo is released, Avon has Stringer demote him to running the operation in the low-rise projects known as "the pit."
Stringer then has his hands full dealing with Omar Little's crew, after they steal some of Barksdale's stash from the pit. Stringer visits D'Angelo to instruct him about checking his organization for an informant who may have been giving Omar information. Avon orders contract killings on Omar and all of his crew. Avon also has Stringer assist Stinkum in taking over new territory for the organization.
Stringer takes Stinkum to survey his new territory, with some additional muscle in the form of Wee-Bey and Marquis "Bird" Hilton. While there, Stringer receives word from D'Angelo that two of his crew, Wallace and Poot, have spotted Omar's boyfriend Brandon at an arcade. Stringer drives to meet the young drug dealers at the arcade, bringing the three enforcers. He has them abduct Brandon using handcuffs and posing as police officers. They torture Brandon to death trying to discover Omar's whereabouts. Then, following Avon's orders, they mutilate his corpse and display it in the low rises. Omar responds to the brutal slaying by striking back at Stinkum and Wee-Bey as they move into the new territory, killing Stinkum and wounding Wee-Bey.
With this escalation of the conflict, Stringer tries to persuade Avon to offer Omar a truce. His plan is to let Omar grow complacent, then kill him when he lets his guard down. Avon initially brushes this suggestion aside, but after Omar nearly kills him, he accepts Stringer's advice. Stringer also persuades Avon to give up his pager—making Stringer a buffer between Avon and the rest of the operation.
As Avon grows increasingly suspicious that the police are watching him, Stringer takes precautions to smoke out informants and to counter wiretaps. He instructs D'Angelo to withhold pay from his subordinates for several weeks on the grounds that those who don't soon ask for money are likely to be the ones being paid as informants. However, this plan reveals no informants. To foil wiretaps, Stringer insists on phone discipline, telling D'Angelo's crew to remove nearby payphones and walk longer distances to other phones instead.
When it's time for Avon to clean house, Stringer orders the murder of Wallace, who had been a key witness in the killing of Omar's boyfriend. Stringer tries to find out about Wallace's whereabouts from D'Angelo, but D'Angelo realizes his friend is in danger and only tells Stringer that Wallace left the business. Stringer turns to Bodie Broadus, D'Angelo's second in the pit operation and learns that Wallace has returned to working for D'Angelo. Stringer asks Bodie to murder Wallace. He also has the witness he bribed in D'Angelo's trial, Nakeesha Lyles, killed.
Stringer assumes command of the Barksdale crew when Avon is arrested at the end of season one. D'Angelo is also arrested and when he learns of the murder of his friend Wallace he blames Stringer, driving a wedge between the two. Stringer rewards Bodie's loyalty by promoting him to run their operation at the 221 tower.
In season two, Stringer faces a serious problem when the Barksdales' usual supplier, a Dominican named Roberto, becomes the focus of a DEA investigation. The New York-based Dominican syndicate ends its partnership with the Barksdales, suspecting Avon of informing on them in exchange for a lighter prison sentence. Avon finds alternatives through Philadelphia and Atlanta connections, but the heroin they supply is far less potent and more expensive. At the same time, rival supplier Proposition Joe introduces a purer, more effective heroin line through his connection with the Greeks—leading many drug users to migrate to his territory. With the Barksdales' operation mortally threatened, Stringer grows desperate.
Stringer becomes concerned with D'Angelo's increasingly hostile attitude towards his uncle, fearful that he may turn against the Barksdales. He secretly becomes involved with D'Angelo's ex-girlfriend, Donette, using the relationship to keep an eye on him. When D'Angelo cuts himself off from the rest of his family, Stringer secretly arranges to have him killed through a connection in Washington. Stringer's connection has his cousin, who is in the same prison, strangle D'Angelo and stage the death as a suicide. Stringer stresses the need to keep Avon from knowing about his role in D'Angelo's murder.
Avon's trust in Stringer becomes strained when Stringer secretly agrees to share Barksdale territory with Proposition Joe in exchange for Joe's higher-quality heroin—an idea Avon vehemently opposes. When Avon hires legendary New York enforcer Brother Mouzone to chase Joe's dealers out of the Barksdale towers, Stringer maneuvers carefully to preserve his alliance with Joe behind Avon's back. He manages to do so by tricking Omar into shooting Mouzone by blaming him for Brandon's death. After Mouzone returns to New York, Avon grudgingly agrees to Stringer's proposal. However, the two are no longer as close as they had been before.
Stringer uses more businesslike strategies as he continues running the Barksdale empire. He obtains legitimate business fronts for the Barksdale organization, forms a retail co-op with Proposition Joe and other rival dealers, and runs meetings with his underlings according to Robert's Rules of Order. Stringer is also shown to have made several donations to consultants and politicians, including the corrupt state senator Clay Davis, to facilitate development of a condominium complex.
At the beginning of Season 3, Stringer has reached the apex of his power. Along with Proposition Joe, he effectively runs the drug trade in the entire city. Joe and Stringer realize that murders, not drug deals, are what bring on serious police investigations, and consequently strive to minimize violence among their crews and the other Co-op dealers, such as Hungry Man and Fat Face Rick.
The resulting lack of murders forces Daniels' Major Crimes Unit to turn its attention elsewhere, namely to a more reckless Jamaican dealer named Kintell Williamson (AKA Prince K). Most of the unit understands the decision, but McNulty angrily objects, claiming that Stringer is clearly a more prolific trafficker than their new target. This brings McNulty into conflict with Freamon and Daniels, with Greggs caught in the middle and Prez and Sydnor disenchanted with the less interesting Williamson. As a result, the Major Case Unit, previously the most effective unit in Baltimore's CID, is temporarily compromised and Stringer is able to run free for a time.
When Avon is released from prison, he is uninterested in Stringer's efforts to reform the Barksdale organization. While Stringer wants to invest the organization's profits in legitimate business investments, Avon is determined to wage war against the fledgling drug lord Marlo Stanfield. As Avon's war against Marlo begins to draw more police attention, Proposition Joe and other Co-Op Members threaten to cut Stringer off from the Greeks' superior heroin supply until he can control Avon. In Stringer's view, this would make any victory over Marlo worthless, as street corners generate no money without drugs to sell on them.
When Stringer asserts his opposition to Avon's war against the Stanfield Crew, Avon accuses him of lacking the toughness necessary for their business—and based on the lack of progress on his condominiums, also accuses him of not being smart enough for the legitimate business world. This causes Stringer to angrily reassert his toughness by revealing that he had ordered D'Angelo's death. Stringer tells Avon that he chose to have D'Angelo killed because Avon himself would be unable to order the death of his own nephew, even if he knew that D'Angelo would eventually flip.
Stringer's relationship with Avon is irreparably damaged by this revelation. While Avon eventually seems to come to terms with Stringer's confession, it compromised their brotherhood and Avon was no longer willing to protect Stringer from the repercussions of his other manipulations. Ultimately, the episode proves that Stringer's origins in the street have left him without the patience and restraint required to realize his greater ambitions.
Stringer's inroads into real estate are hamstrung by the nuances of a legitimate business world that he doesn't fully understand, with his condominium project repeatedly delayed by bureaucratic obstacles. Stringer is frustrated by what he perceives as inexcusable foot-dragging that would not be tolerated in the drug world. Worse, Stringer bribes Davis to connect his organization with federal housing grants, only to learn that Davis fabricated his federal contact and pocketed the money. Enraged, Stringer instructs Slim Charles to assassinate Davis, an order Avon immediately cancels.
Stringer's luck takes a turn for the worse when Kintell Williamson joins the New Day Co-Op and curbs his crew's violent tendencies. At the same time, Avon's war with Marlo is ratcheting up, and McNulty backdoors Lt. Daniels and goes straight to the Western District Commander, Major Howard Colvin, in order to refocus the Major Crimes Unit on Barksdale's once-again violent drug crew. This helps Freamon and Prez slowly gather conspiracy evidence against Stringer and his lieutenants, eventually catching Stringer making an incriminating phone call on one of his many phone lines. The Major Crimes Unit is finally ready to make a conclusive move against the Barksdale Crew, but just before warrants can be issued the Organization self-destructs in an ironic turn of events.
Stringer plans to regain control of the Barksdale organization by sending Avon back to prison, betraying the location of his safehouse to Baltimore Police major Howard "Bunny" Colvin. However, Stringer is simultaneously betrayed by Avon when Brother Mouzone confronts him about Stringer's plot to engineer a conflict between Mouzone and Omar Little. Mouzone tells Avon that he knew Stringer had intentionally fed Omar misinformation, and that he held Avon responsible for Stringer's actions, threatening to use his connections to cut off the Barksdale organization's supply of drugs from New York. In an effort to avoid a war with Mouzone, Avon reluctantly tells him Stringer's whereabouts.
Shortly after Avon's meeting with Brother Mouzone, Avon and Stringer enjoy a last drink together at Avon's harbor-side condominium. They reminisce about the past and act as if their old friendship were still intact—despite each having betrayed the other. The next day Omar and Brother Mouzone track Stringer to his development site, kill his bodyguard and, after a tense confrontation, kill him.
With Stringer dead and Avon imprisoned along with most of his men, the Barksdale organization crumbles. Slim Charles becomes de facto leader of what remains of the Barksdale crew, which he merges with Proposition Joe's drug operations. Marlo Stanfield becomes the new power in West Baltimore by default.
After Stringer's death, Detective McNulty and the police search his apartment. The apartment is extremely clean, stylishly furnished and tastefully decorated. Far from any expectations of a drug kingpin, his bookshelf includes a copy of The Wealth of Nations. McNulty expresses regret that he couldn't arrest his arch rival before he died. In the end, McNulty displayes an odd admiration for Stringer's lofty dreams, and a grudging respect for his talent as a drug kingpin. In essence, McNulty feels purposeless without his adversary.
In the season five episode "Late Editions," Clay Davis, while describing to Lester Freamon how drug money is routed from the kingpins to state and city politicians through their lawyers, mentions how he conned a fellow named "Bell" into giving him a great deal of money because Davis had convinced him that he would be able to use his connections to push his development forward quickly. As Davis laughs about how he conned Stringer, Freamon's eyes light up in recognition.
Stringer's name is a composite of two real Baltimore drug lords, Stringer Reed and Roland Bell. His story bears many similarities to the life of Kenneth A. Jackson—specifically, his crossover from the illegal drug trade to legitimate business ownership and political contributions.