The Anarchist Hero and the Powerless Police

McNulty: Lester are we still cops?
Freamon: Technically, I suppose so.
McNulty: Okay, I was just checking.

When the Barksdales disconnect the payphones in the pit, Freamon responds calmly. He sees that type of disruption as an inevitable result of their arrest of Kevin Johnston. He simply responds by adapting, figuring out the new payphones that the crew will be using and devising other ways to get into the heart of the Barksdale’s communications. But when Freamon learns about Omar’s ambush on Stinkum, he becomes furious. “This fucks us,” he roars. Their jump-out on Kevin Johnston gave them a charge that they could put to Stinkum at any time. This means that Stinkum is more valuable to the investigation as a free man than he is in prison. In the morgue, Stinkum is utterly useless.

This is also the moment when the bill comes due on their risky collaboration with stickup boy Omar. They were willing to use his deep knowledge of the street to bring down Bird, but they didn’t account for how Omar might use that knowledge for his own purposes. It is a moment of powerlessness, or rather, a realization that they have always been powerless. Omar can’t be contained by law, and so his actions are virtually impossible to predict.

Still, they decide to bring Omar in, partly to scold him, and partly to question him about Stinkum’s murder. Omar replies quickly to the 9-1-1 card McNulty leaves on the burn-out dashboard of the white van, and why wouldn’t Omar jump at the chance to steal another peek at the information-rich bulletin board in the detail office? That is all he really needs from the detectives, so the actual conversation they have goes nowhere.

In fact, it goes worse than nowhere. Omar flaunts his inability to be controlled. He is too clever to admit to the murder of Stinkum, but he taunts the cops, dropping the detail that Wee-Bey “took one in the leg,” a detail he couldn’t have known if he hadn’t been the one that put it there. He laughs at Freamon’s suggestion that Omar was smart enough to lose the gun afterwards, and he gives the classic line “The game is out there. It’s either play or get played.” It is becoming clear who is playing and who is getting played. Essentially, Omar gives the detectives notice that he wants to dissolve this uneasy partnership. Somewhere in there, he sneaks a peek at the board and sees that the detectives have linked Avon to Orlando’s. Then he leaves.

After Omar’s departure, the cops are left with nothing. All they can do is joke about their plainly-exposed impotence. McNulty asks “Are we still cops?” Freamon replies “technically, I suppose so.” It is a concession to how limited their authority has become. Here they are, supposed officers of the law, bringing in a murderer and a thief, and unable to do anything about it. It is just another example of Omar as anarchist hero: he consistently reveals the authority of the police as an illusion, based solely on trust and on the extent to which others recognize and accept that authority.

4 thoughts on “The Anarchist Hero and the Powerless Police

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