Avon Randolph Barksdale is a fictional character in The Wire, played by Wood Harris. Avon is one of the more powerful drug dealers in Baltimore, Maryland, running the Barksdale Organization. His Organization territory is based in the heart of west Baltimore's ghetto, solidifying his power in the drug trade.
Avon's best friend Stringer Bell is second in command and runs most of the operation, insulating Avon from law enforcement and potential enemies. Below Avon and Bell is a large organization of drug dealers and enforcers, including Avon's nephew D'Angelo Barksdale, son of Brianna Barksdale, Avon's sister. 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.
Avon Barksdale was born on August 15, 1970 at Provident Hospital in Baltimore. Barksdale grew up in the Franklin Terrace public housing project. As of season one, Barksdale had no criminal record as his juvenile record was expunged and he has not been arrested as an adult. 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.
At the beginning of the series, Avon is the top player in the West Baltimore drug trade. His territory included the prized Franklin Terrace Towers, a public housing project consisting of six high rise apartment buildings. Avon also controls other smaller territory like a nearby low-rise housing project referred to as "the Pit" (or the courtyard). 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 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 has a number of enforcers for protection, contract killings, and intimidation work, including his old friend Wee-Bey Brice. He has several lieutenants reporting to him, each responsible for a drug crew in a different area. Beneath the lieutenants there were hoppers who would collect customers money, serve drugs and lookout for police.
Every member of the organization are subject to strict rules designed to thwart police investigations. The dealers are not allowed to carry cell phones or take drugs. They are all aware of how to deal with police interrogation and know that the organization can only protect them up until a certain point, but if they turn on Avon they could be killed. Lieutenants and enforcers carry pagers so that they can be contacted. They know not to talk business in cars, public places or with anyone outside of the organization. Such discussions are limited to property and territory owned by the Barksdale organization.
A strict telephone usage policy is applied rigidly throughout the organization. The pager messages are encoded to prevent easy tracing of the payphones being used. Each pager-carrying member of the organization is 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.
Avon received his narcotics supply through a connection to a Dominican organization in New York. 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.
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 organization laundered its profits through various companies, including a funeral parlor, Orlando's, and a property developing company named B&B. It also invested in property,and made bribes and campaign contributions for assistance with development contracts.
Avon's errant nephew and lieutenant D'Angelo has murdered a dealer named Pooh Blanchard, so Avon had Stringer pay a witness, Nakeesha Lyles, to change her story in court. D'Angelo gets acquitted, but Avon chastises him for costing the organization time and money, and demotes him from the 221 Tower into "The Pit" to replace Ronnie Mo, who had recently been promoted to his own tower. Avon also orders "Bird" Hilton to murder a second witness, William Gant, whom he had been unable to intimidate or bribe. The body is left on display outside the 221 Tower, to send a message to people who might consider testifying. D'Angelo is shaken by the murder and begins to have second thoughts about his life, but Avon persuades him to remain loyal to the family.
Avon is angered when The Pit's stash is robbed by Omar Little, and he places a heavy bounty on Omar and his crew (nearly doubling it upon realizing Omar was homosexual). Wee-Bey kills John Bailey, a member of Omar's crew. Omar's lover Brandon Wright is captured and tortured by Stringer, Wee-Bey, Bird and Stinkum. In response, Omar kills Stinkum and wounds Wee-Bey, culminating with a failed assassination attempt on Avon outside of Orlando's. Wee-Bey manages to save Avon at the last minute.
The Pit is also subject to police raids which seize a second resupply of narcotics and arrest a carrier named Kevin Johnston and a dealer named Robert Browning. The police also seize an entire day's profits from Wee-Bey, totalling $22,000. They also briefly seize a payment on its way to Clay Davis but are forced to return it because of his political influence. The robbery and police activity combined raise suspicion that there is a leak in the pit, and an increasingly paranoid Avon orders D'Angelo to remove the pay phones (which had indeed been wiretapped).
Barksdale's front man Orlando Blocker has been trying to take part in the drug trade, and Avon feels obliged to beat him, warning him that the only reason he is a front man was because he was clean. Orlando persists in trying to go into the business for himself, and ultimately gets arrested by an undercover state police officer. Avon promptly has his name removed from the club's license. Orlando agrees to aid the police in their investigation, and Avon orders Wee-Bey, Little Man and Savino to kill him. The job is complicated when they accidentally shoot the undercover Kima Greggs, accompanying Orlando at the time. This leads to a massive crackdown from the police. Savino is forced to turn himself in, but faces a sentence of just three years for drug charges because he was not directly implicated in the shooting. Avon and Stringer hold a crisis meeting with attorney Maurice Levy, who advises them to remove any possible loose ends. Avon orders several murders, including unreliable enforcer Little Man, bribed witness Nakeesha Lyles and a young dealer from The Pit named Wallace.
Avon finally incriminates himself on a hidden camera in his office when sending D'Angelo to pick up a package of drugs. He is arrested by Jimmy McNulty and Cedric Daniels 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.
Avon continues to run his organization from within the prison through Stringer. D'Angelo and Wee-Bey are imprisoned alongside Avon, both due to serve much longer terms. A prison guard named Dwight Tilghman is harassing Wee-Bey as Wee-Bey killed one of his relatives. Avon tries to reason with Tilghman, but the guard refuses to talk to him. Avon and Stringer know that Tilghman has a sideline and smuggles narcotics into the prison. Stringer approaches Tilghman's supplier Butchie and pays him to supply Tilghman with tainted heroin on his next visit. The tainted heroin kills five inmates and hospitalizes eight others. The warden opens an investigation, to which Avon comes forward as an "informant", accusing Tilghman of the crime. The Maryland State Police subsequently search Tilghman's car, finding drugs in a sweets packet, and arrest Tilghman despite his protest that the drugs were planted. For his "testimony", Avon's first parole hearing is advanced up a year. 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 his death staged to look like a suicide.
Because Avon's arrest was closely followed by the arrest of one of their suppliers, the New York-based Dominicans are suspicious that Avon might have named them to receive a lighter sentence, and the business relationship is brought to an end. Avon recommends secondary sources to Stringer but is 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 dismisses 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 arrangement behind his back, Avon contracts the feared Brother Mouzone to defend his turf. Stringer responds by tricking Omar into believing that Mouzone tortured and killed Brandon. Omar shoots Mouzone, but lets him live after realizing things didn't add up. Mouzone returns to New York to recover from his wounds and Avon reluctantly agrees to Proposition Joe's proposal.
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 Marlo Stanfield. In one such attempt, Avon employs 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, Chris Partlow spots an SUV responding to Devonne's presence and correctly deduces that the meeting is an ambush. Chris has his driver pull up to the Barksdale car, and then fires a shotgun blast through his side window, wounding Avon and killing a Barksdale soldier named Tater. Later, Marlo and Chris track down Devonne, and Marlo shoots her to death in front of her house.
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.
Avon also 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 retire on respectful terms. Later, when Cutty asks for $10,000 to help start a boxing 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 and Omar kill 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 is ultimately arrested again; based on evidence that Stringer provided to Colvin, the Major Crimes Unit raids Avon's wartime safehouse and are able to put weapons and conspiracy charges on all those present. Avon's presence at the time of the arrest constitutes a parole violation which mandates serving the remaining five years of his seven-year sentence. Avon'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, Avon 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 Avon's new sentence will be. However, it is later confirmed via the site run by HBO dedicated to The Wire that Avon did in fact receive an additional twenty five years of jail time for conspiracy to commit murder, on top of the remaining five years left over from his initial sentence of seven years due to his parole violation.
Early in season 5, Marlo Stanfield arranges a meeting with former Greek soldier Sergei Malatov at MCI Jessup in the hopes of contacting The Greeks and Spiros Vondas. However, when he visits the prison, he instead encounters Avon, who reveals that he still has 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 explains that he has intuited Marlo's plan of using Sergei to contact Vondas. Avon agrees, philosophically, with Marlo's plan to get around Proposition Joe and 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 espouses love for Westsiders and states that he is prepared to let bygones be bygones in regards to their past war. However, he informs Marlo that in order to gain access to Sergei, Marlo has to pay Brianna $100,000. Marlo agrees, makes the payment, and at his next visit to Jessup, Avon grants him access to Sergei. Marlo and Sergei meet, with Avon overseeing. Sergei is initially uninterested in cooperating with Marlo'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 will be Sergei who "made it happen". By the end of the series, Marlo's second-in-command Chris Partlow has made peace with Avon's organization as well, as he is seen fraternizing with Wee-Bey Brice in prison courtyard.
David Simon has disputed that any one individual is the model for any specific character in The Wire. He has stated on The Wire DVD that Barksdale is a composite of several Baltimore drug dealers. Avon Barksdale is likely based, to some extent, on Melvin Williams (who plays the character of The Deacon) and Nathan Barksdale.