Not Quite Fiction: Headlines Ripped from The Wire

In New Orleans, and in urban areas all over the country, there’s a creepy conflation of the Wireverse and reality. There is surely some local version of Avon Barksdale or Marlo running the Iberville project, or a Bodie holding down the tower on Simon Bolivar Ave. Ray Nagin is just as craven and disconnected as Royce, and among all the developers out there hounding for recovery tax credits, there is maybe a Stringer Bell among them, using laundered money. Obviously, in Louisiana, we have far too many Clay Davises, and lord knows the Times-Picayune misses the real story most of the time. Plus, we have Republicans, and they’re not just in the statehouse..

The connections happen so often that I’m going to try and chronicle some of them here. I’d love for these posts to be a place where we can do some critical thinking about solutions: institutional reform, witness protection, civic activism. Heck, we can even bring in Bunny Colvin’s favorite, academic research. The series is such a gold mine of sociological research that it would be a shame to avoid putting it into praxis. So let’s get busy in the comments section, yes?

First up, a story out of Los Angeles from last week. A 16 year-old girl from Sun Valley, CA, named Martha Puebla, witnesses a violent gang shootout that ends with her friend’s body laying bullet-riddled on the sidewalk. Suspect Jose Ledesma, notorious gangster, flees to Tijuana. Mexican police respond to a separate incident and find out that Ledesma and his buddy Catalan are wanted in Los Angeles for murder.

By nightfall, the suspects had been hauled back to LAPD’s North Hollywood station for booking. Pinner and Rodriguez brought Ledesma, 19, into an interview room and flipped on a tape recorder. Rodriguez read Ledesma his Miranda rights, and Pinner started grilling him. Ledesma, who didn’t call a lawyer, showed no signs of cracking. He mocked and swore at Pinner, repeatedly denying any role in the killings.

“You got the wrong person, buddy,” Ledesma said.

“OK. I don’t agree with you, and I have the evidence to prove it,” Pinner said. “I have multiple witnesses who are going to testify that you were the shooter.”

Pinner told Ledesma he knew the gang member had been on his way to Martha Puebla’s house to visit her the night Vargas was killed outside her house.

To drive home his point, Pinner laid down a “six-pack” — an array of mug shots that detectives often show to witnesses or victims of crimes. On it, Ledesma’s photo was circled, and the initials “M.P.” were written below it. “Those is the guy that shot my friends boyfriend” was scrawled along the margin, followed by Puebla’s signature.

What will happen next? It’s so hard to predict.

OK, actually, the comparison isn’t perfect. Instead of putting the word out that Martha Puebla was a snitch, Ledesma just cuts to the chase and orders the hit.

The next night, Ledesma reached for a pay phone outside his cell. “Cokester,” he said into the receiver, calling his friend Javier Covarrubias by one of his gang monikers, “do you know the slut that lives there by . . . my house? Her name starts with an M . . . I need her to disappear. She is dropping dimes.”

To the gang, Puebla was a snitch and needed to be dealt with.

“Uh huh, like that,” Ledesma told Covarrubias, using a mix of Spanish and English. “But [keep a] low-pro[file]. . . . Stay on your toes, homie. And don’t get caught.”

Puebla was apparently aware that she had been labeled a snitch. She told a friend that she knew the Vineland Boyz were blaming her for helping police with the Vargas murder investigation.

And just like Herc, these fine LAPD officers had no idea what was going on, because Martha Puebla was killed five months after the original shooting. While investigating her murder, it took the detectives nearly two years to get a correct translation of the jail-cell phone call.

The real kicker here, though, is that Martha didn’t tell the cops anything. There wasn’t even a photo array. The cops made it all up.

Far from helping the police, the reality was that Puebla had actually tried to protect Ledesma in the hours after the shooting. She allegedly threatened her girlfriend, telling her that if she cooperated with authorities Puebla would tell the Vineland Boyz where the girl’s family lived.

Puebla’s girlfriend had told detectives that as the gunshots went off, Puebla had yelled, “It’s Peps!” But Puebla denied it, telling Pinner, Rodriguez and two other detectives that she had only speculated that Ledesma may have been the shooter.

When Pinner and Rodriguez stepped into the interrogation room with Ledesma, they had little real information to work with.

So they made up what they needed.

The photo six-pack was a complete fake. Rodriguez had doctored it, circling Ledesma’s photo and forging Puebla’s statement and signature.

Good thing the Feds stepped in to clean up the mess.

In 2004, federal investigators got involved in the investigation into Puebla’s killing as part of a larger case against the Vineland Boyz. Last year, in a federal plea deal to avoid the death penalty, Ledesma, Covarrubias and the gang member thought to be the gunman admitted to taking part in killing Puebla. A fourth Vineland Boyz member who participated is thought to have fled to Mexico and is being sought, a federal prosecutor said.

With the arrival of federal authorities, Pinner and Rodriguez were phased out as the lead investigators. They soon were separated as partners. Rodriguez was transferred to an auto theft detail and is currently assigned to a vice unit. Pinner remains a homicide detective in North Hollywood.

That’s right; this joker Pinner is still a homicide detective. Maybe if he’d lost some sort of camera…

One or two things about Norman

1. I completely forgot that Norman had previously worked at The Sun. The HBO character description: A former Baltimore Sun night editor, much beloved by his reporters.

My guess is that this has to work into the Season 5 newspaper plotline…

2. Speaking of math…below, a much younger Reg E. Cathey, from Square One Television. For the nostalgic math fans among us, more Square One vids here.

(And I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t point out that the resulting car crash is of course reminiscent of this. )

The cause of gods and demons

carcpie

One last post about Season Four…

Since I re-watched all of it in the space of a few days recently, I’ve been musing further about it in relation to the upcoming season. Something I didn’t really fully appreciate during the original airings is how the rigid laws of mathematics serve as a motif, a theme within the larger theme of education. It’s no coincidence that Pryzbylewski teaches math. We repeatedly see Prez and his kids working with numerical relationships, geometry, fractions, and most ironically, probability.

Pythagorus:

Number is the ruler of forms and ideas, and the cause of gods and demons.

David Simon:

“We’ve basically taken the idea of Greek tragedy and applied it to the modern city-state.” He went on, “What we were trying to do was take the notion of Greek tragedy, of fated and doomed people, and instead of these Olympian gods, indifferent, venal, selfish, hurling lightning bolts and hitting people in the ass for no reason—instead of those guys whipping it on Oedipus or Achilles, it’s the postmodern institutions . . . those are the indifferent gods.”

Bodie:

I feel old. I been out there since I was thirteen. I ain’t never fucked up a count, never stole off a package, never did some shit that I wasn’t told to do. I been straight up. But what come back? You think if I get jammed up on some shit they be like “A’ight, yeah. Bodie been there. Bodie hang tough. We got his paid lawyer, we got the bail.” They want me to stand with them, right? But where the fuck they at when they supposed to stand with us? I mean, when shit goes bad, and there’s hell to pay, where they at? This game is rigged, man. We like them little bitches on the chess board.

One of the oh-so-appealing S4 protagonists, the industrious and bright Randy, appears to have mastered the science of figuring the odds, yet he’s tragically unaware of how vulnerable he really is, how little his intelligence and drive are really worth in the big picture, how the odds are stacked against his survival. But we knew. We knew when we met our four boys that statistically, it was impossible that all of them would survive intact. If Stringer Bell couldn’t make it out alive, what chance did Randy Wagstaff have?

And the bigger players are also shown struggling with and exploiting the known constants, moving the chess pieces, dividing the pie. Following Stringer and Avon’s mutual betrayals and the implosion of the Barksdale operation, Marlo expands into the vacuum and monopolizes the empty set of the West Side. After much persuasion, Prop Joe finally brings him into the Co-Op (per Renaldo, the “coop”). Shortly thereafter Omar, who “likes it simple,” discovers that the chickens have come home to the coop, all their eggs in one basket, and it’s “muy bueno, baby,” as he manages to rob every drug dealer in town in one heist.

The same thing, manipulation of the parts of a whole, is played out in the mayoral election as the percentages shift back and forth between the three candidates. Later, after Carcetti’s been elected, we sit with him through meeting after meeting as the various pieces of the finite city budget are tinkered with in a vain effort to pay for everything he’s promised the public during his campaign. We see he’s already broken an age-old rule: don’t let your mouth write no check your tail can’t cash.

Omar and the other characters who respect the rules, like Colvin, Lester, Daniels, and Bunk — even if it’s only their own personal codes — usually at least manage to survive on their own terms, even if they don’t win the larger game. Carcetti obviously has a lot to learn in this regard, as his impulses tend to get the better of him, such as when he walks out of the governor’s office leaving 54 million for the schools on the table because he’s too proud, so concerned with his own political future that he ignores the numbers, the reality of the education deficit. This will undoubtedly come back to bite him — and the whole city — in the ass: the last we see of him during the finale montage, he’s sitting exhausted and frazzled in yet another meeting, a pie chart showing the education deficit circled in red hanging over his head.

Sure it’s true that The Wire’s always been about numbers, votes, money, weight, stats, the all-important count, but the S4 classroom functioned as a play within a play, placing a heavier than usual emphasis on “the ruler of forms and ideas,” in actuality, the nature of reality.

All the more relevant given that Season 5 is about perception versus reality, about words used in the service of corporate and institutional agendas trying to meet their bottom line. Or to quote Simon, “just how far you can go on a lie.”

It’s about the people who are supposed to be monitoring all this and sounding the alarm—the journalists. The newsroom I worked in had four hundred and fifty people. Now it’s got three hundred. Management says, ‘We have to do more with less.’ That’s the bullshit of bean counters who care only about the bottom line. You do less with less.”

Oprah blames the kids

Oprah obviously didn’t watch Season Four of The Wire.

In an interview in Newsweek’s January 8 issue (out January 1), Winfrey discusses building her $40 million Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls school in South Africa for impoverished teenagers, and more:

Oprah also knows that some people will complain that charity should
begin at home, even though she has provided millions of dollars to educate
poor children in the United States, especially via her Oprah Winfrey
Scholars Program, Samuels reports. But she sees the two situations as
entirely different.

“Say what you will about the American educational system — it does work,” Oprah tells Newsweek. “If you are a child in the United States, you can get an education.” And she doesn’t think that American students — who, unlike Africans, go to school free of charge — appreciate what they have. “I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn’t there,” she says. “If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don’t ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school.”

Okay, first, it’s true that Winfrey has given away gazillions of dollars to great causes including schools here. Second, more power to her for helping out South African kids.

That said, knowing she has the power to influence literally millions of Americans, that people actually do listen to what she says, she basically writes off the most at-risk kids in the country as Continue reading

So, where are we?

[WARNING: This is not spoiler material, as it's already been made public, but if you don't want to know anything ahead of time, don't continue.]

I’m curious to know what everyone here is thinking about on the eve of Season 5. As we all know, the vast scope of the series and size of the cast precludes a lot of the perfect closure we are accustomed to getting spoon-fed by other shows, so there’s a lot from previous seasons that we’ll never see resolved. That said, be it speculation, wish list, worst case scenarios, favorite characters, storylines, whatever, tell us what you think. Continue reading

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