Avon Barksdale is a drug dealer and runs the Barksdale Organization in West Baltimore, Maryland. Barksdale runs the drug trade in the area with total autonomy until his incarceration in season 1.
Avon is assisted by his old friend and second-in-command Stringer Bell and a vast organization of young drug dealers. He is interested only in controlling the drug distribution throughout Baltimore with nothing less than absolute power and believes that control of territory is the key to this objective. Throughout the series, he remains powerful running the distribution in and out of prison while dealing with conflict coming from his crew and the police. Avon is hot-tempered and very concerned with his image on the street. Although he is not as cerebral as Stringer, he is shrewd and intuitive.
- See also: Barksdale Organization
At the beginning of the series, Avon had control of the entire drug trade in West Baltimore. His territory included the prized Franklin Terrace tower blocks and the nearby low-rise projects referred to as "the pit". Avon ran the organization as a hierarchy with himself at the top and Stringer directly below him. They were isolated from the drugs and only handled money. Avon kept a low profile, eschewing overt displays of wealth so as not to attract attention, and avoiding being photographed. He retained attorney Maurice Levy, who advised him on how to counter police investigation, and represented members of the organization at hearings and trials.
Avon kept a team of enforcers on hand for protection, contract killings and intimidation work, including his old friend Wee-Bey Brice. He had several lieutenants reporting to him with each responsible for trade in a different area of the West Side, and some receiving a percentage of the profits for each package of narcotics sold. Beneath the lieutenants there was typically a second-in-command and several drug dealers. The dealers would hold positions such as: "touts" who were responsible for attracting customers; "runners" who would deliver drugs to the customer; "look-outs" 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 low level dealers were not allowed to carry cell phones or take drugs. They were all aware of how to deal with police interrogation and prepared with the knowledge that the organization would protect them up to a point, but if they turned on Avon, they would be marked for death. 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. This made it easily accessible to the poorly educated drug dealers. Each pager-carrying member of the hierarchy 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 reminded not to. 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 diluted 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 had a main office in his front, a strip club named Orlando's. It was here, behind a locked and heavily guarded door, that the drug money was counted and secured in a safe before being sent on to its ultimate destination. Avon usually conducted his business in this office, rarely venturing onto the street. The club's owner, Orlando Blocker, was kept completely away from the drugs in order to maintain the front's appearance of legitimacy.
The organization laundered its profits through front businesses including a funeral parlor, Orlando's strip club, and a property developing company (B&B). They also invested in property but never using Barksdale or Bell's names. The organization made campaign contributions and later bribes to Senator Clay Davis, ostensibly for assistance in receiving developing contracts.
Born in 1970, Barksdale grew up in the terrace high-rises and avoided arrest, remaining a furtive but increasingly powerful force on the west side of Baltimore's Drug Trade. A former amateur boxer who once fought in a Golden Gloves Tournament, Avon was taught by his father how to survive in "the game" at an early age. He brought his friend, small-time thief Russell "Stringer" Bell, into the drug trade during their teens and took over the terrace high-rises during a gang war with a rival in 1999.
Avon's errant nephew and lieutenant D'Angelo had murdered Pooh Blanchard in public and was standing trial. Avon had Stringer Bell pay a witness named 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 low rise housing projects know as "The Pit" to replace Ronnie Mo. Avon also arranged for "Bird" Hilton to murder a second witness, William Gant, who he had been unable to intimidate or bribe. The body was left on display, to send a message to people who might consider testifying against the Barksdales. 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. Wee-Bey Brice killed John Bailey, a member of Omar's crew. Omar's lover Brandon Wright was captured and tortured by Stringer, Wee-Bey, Bird and Stinkum. In response, Omar provides information of the murder of witness William Gant that leads to the arrest of a Barksdale enforcer, Bird, who is Gant's killer. Later after providing the information, Omar killed Stinkum and wounded Wee-Bey with a gunshot to the leg, culminating with a failed assassination attempt on Avon outside of Orlando's. Wee-Bey managed to save Avon at the last minute and wounded Omar in the shoulder, forcing him to retreat.
The Pit was also subject to police raids which seized a second resupply of narcotics and arrested a one-eyed blind carrier named Kevin Johnston and a dealer named Marvin Browning. The police also seized an entire day's profits from Wee-Bey, totalling $22,000 dollars. 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 become involved in the drug trade, and Avon angrily beats him, warning him that the only reason he was front man was because of his clean record for the liquor licence. Orlando persisted in trying to go into the business for himself, and was arrested by the state police. 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 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, Nakeesha Lyles and a young dealer from The Pit named Wallace.
Avon finally incriminated himself on a hidden camera in his office and was arrested. He was sentenced to seven years incarceration. In prison, he is imprisoned with his Barksdale associates including D'Angelo, who is facing a twenty-year sentence for drug trafficking and refusal to cooperate, and Wee-Bey, who is serving life imprisonment for multiple counts of homicide.
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 side line 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, leading to his arrest. This results 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 and the scene faked to imply suicide.
Because Avon's arrest was closely followed by the arrest of a Dominican supplier, the Domincans 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 a quality product. Stringer suggested that they give up a portion of their territory to their rival Proposition Joe. Avon quickly dismissed the idea, reminding Stringer how hard they worked to seize the territory in the first place. Stringer decided to act behind Avon's back and allowed Proposition Joe to move in despite Avon's order. Avon responded by contracting the feared Brother Mouzone to defend his turf, which he forces Joe's lieutenant and nephew Cheese to depart from the towers area. After Mouzone had been shot by Omar (which Stringer arranged, behind Avon's back), Avon reluctantly agreed to Stringer's proposal.
While Avon is still in prison the high rise towers are demolished forcing the Barksdale organization to return to the streets for territory. Upon his release from prison, Avon is showered with gifts by Stringer: a nightclub, a penthouse apartment, expensive clothes, and 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 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.
Avon and Stringer continue to clash over their leadership styles; Proposition Joe tells Stringer that he will withhold the quality product if Avon's war with Stanfield continues, but Avon believes that they will look weak. In a tense confrontation, Stringer suspiciously admits to Avon that D'Angelo's death wasn't a suicide and calmly admits that he ordered D'Angelo dead. At first Avon is in disbelief, but realizes and wrestles Stringer, which Stringer overpowers him and angrily admits his reasons why D'Angelo was murdered under his orders. Stringer then gets in contact with Major Colvin and provides him with evidence against Avon. Meanwhile, Brother Mouzone returns to Baltimore and demand that Avon tell him where to find Stringer. Knowing it will mean his friend's death but unable to find an alternative since he is ultimately enraged of Stringer ordering his nephew's death, Avon does so, and Mouzone along with Omar kill Stringer
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 has five years remaining on his earlier charges and returns to prison for violation of his parole.
Avon's murder victims:
William Gant (ordered murder)
John Bailey (ordered murder)
Brandon Wright (ordered murder)
Orlando (ordered murder)
Little Man (ordered murder)
Nakeesha Lyles (ordered murder)
Wallace (ordered murder)
Several unnamed inmates (caused by having the prison heroin supply laced with poison)
Several unnamed dealers in the Stanfield Organization during the war (ordered murder)
Avon is played by Wood Harris.
|Season 1 appearances|
|"The Target"||"The Detail"||"The Buys"||"Old Cases"||"The Pager"|
|"The Wire"||"One Arrest"||"Lessons"||"Game Day"||"The Cost"|
|"The Hunt"||"Cleaning Up"||"Sentencing"|
|Season 2 appearances|
|"Ebb Tide"||"Collateral Damage"||"Hot Shots"||"Hard Cases"||"Undertow"|
|"All Prologue"||"Backwash"||"Duck and Cover"||"Stray Rounds"||"Storm Warnings"|
|"Bad Dreams"||"Port in a Storm"|
|Season 3 appearances|
|"Time after Time"||"All Due Respect"||"Dead Soldiers"||"Amsterdam"||"Straight and True"|
|"Homecoming"||"Back Burners"||"Moral Midgetry"||"Slapstick"||"Reformation"|
|"Middle Ground"||"Mission Accomplished"|
|Season 5 appearances|
|"More with Less"||"Unconfirmed Reports"||"Not for Attribution"||"Transitions"||"React Quotes"|
|"The Dickensian Aspect"||"Took"||"Clarifications"||"Late Editions"||"–30–"|
Avon's story of the first season itself mirrors real-life investigations of Baltimore drug traffickers like "Little Melvin" Williams, Chin Farmer, Cookie Savage, Warren Boardley and Linwood Williams, each of which writer Ed Burns played a part in. The writers also drew from their experience of Baltimore in naming the characters. The Liberty Heights Barksdale family of five brothers is the source for the Barksdale family on the show.
- ↑ Org Chart - The Street. HBO (2004). Retrieved on 2006-03-29.
- ↑ Character profile - Avon Barksdale. HBO (2004). Retrieved on 2006-03-29.
- ↑ Richard Vine (2005). Totally Wired. The Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved on 2006-07-19.
- ↑ Jesse Walker (2006). Localist Television. Reactionary Radicals. Retrieved on 2006-07-22.