"Corner Boys" is the eighth episode of the fourth season of The Wire. It is the forty-fifth episode of the series overall. It premiered on November 5, 2006. The episode was written by Richard Price and directed by Agnieszka Holland.
"Corner Boys" references the terminology used to describe the disruptive students in school, and the focus taken by Colvin's group to relate to them in terms of what they know - the streets of Baltimore.
- "We got our thing, but it's just part of the big thing."
Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski takes his second class of the day. He sets them a problem requiring division of apples between people. Randy Wagstaff is distracted by his classmate Calvin. Prez asks Calvin the answer and Calvin guesses correctly. He explains his rationale to the class – Prez marked the correct answer on the blackboard for the earlier class.
In the special class the corner kids are subdued. They have realized that whatever their behaviour they are stuck in school. Their teacher quizzes them about their views of themselves. Namond Brice explains that they are players in "the game." Albert Stokes says he hopes to be a kingpin in two years. The teacher has them write down where they see themselves in ten years. Namond and Markeith say they will end up dead. Albert changes his ambition – he wants to be a paediatric neurosurgeon like Ben Carson. Kwame and Darnell Tyson hope to join the NBA. Howard "Bunny" Colvin expresses his respect for the teacher to David Parenti and learns that she is a doctoral candidate in sociology. When Namond is caught with a magazine and denies ownership, Colvin recognizes the excuse from his police days and tells the class that he thinks they see school as a safe environment to practice for life on the corner. He asks them what they think makes a good corner boy and they enthusiastically bombard him with suggestions.
After school Randy walks home with Michael Lee and his younger brother Bug. Michael quizzes Randy about how he was able to return to school and Randy keeps quiet about his involvement with the police. Michael warns him about getting involved with authority figures. Randy tells him it doesn’t matter as his foster mother, Miss Anna, now has him on a short leash. Michael points out that Randy is lucky to have a leash at all.
The next day Prez takes his class through their state mathematics test – Calvin and Charlene struggle with the change in the particulars from their practice work but Duquan "Dukie" Weems is able to apply the skills he learned to the new problem. When he tries to explain it to Charlene she storms out of the classroom.
Meanwhile Colvin continues his discussion of what makes a good corner boy with the special class. Namond and Kwame are emphatic about the need to prevent your people stealing from you because otherwise their thieving will spiral out of control. Zenobia Dawson is insistent that a beating for anyone caught is the way to prevent stealing. Darnell suggests that proof is needed before a beating – instead he suggests making the worker pay you back and if they complain you known they are stealing. Colvin asks why the beating is necessary and Darnell and Markeith tell him that someone is always watching on the street and you cannot appear weak.
Namond tells Randy and Michael about the discussion on their way home from school. Michael asks Namond if he is coming to the gym and Namond tells him he has to work on selling off the rest of his last package. Dukie remains in class after school playing on the computer. When De'Londa Brice catches her son Namond working on his package in his bedroom she angrily tells him that the police could seize their house if the drugs are found there and insists he hand the task on to a lieutenant.
Michael gets home to find that his mother has sold his grocery shopping for drug money. He gives her just ten dollars when she tells him she is going out and she threatens to take the DSS card from him. He calls the bluff and insists on keeping the card. When Michael gets home from the gym, Bug tells him that his father has returned. Michael is dismayed and repulsed when the man goes to touch him. He shares a disbelieving glance with his mother. Michael confronts his mother, telling her that she has broken her promise by allowing Bug’s father to return. She is unconcerned and tells Michael that things are going back to the way they were. Michael is stunned and she tries to comfort him by saying that people change. She tells Michael that Bug’s father will now hold the DSS card.
In class the next day an energised Namond raises the hypocrisy of a system that promises to reward him for good behaviour when it fails to live by its own rules much of the time – he states steroids, liquor, cigarettes and Enron as examples. Darnell points out that Colvin's work as a police officer focused on drugs so in a way drugs paid his salary. Zenobia claims that the street life is just part of the larger system.
Prez discusses his class' difficulty with the test with his colleagues. They reassure him that performance is low across all subjects. Mrs Hanson and Mrs Shapiro tell him he must follow the curriculum. Mrs Grace Sampson tells Prez to spend some time teaching the test and some time teaching more accessible subject matter. Ms Hanson offers typical sage advice – Prez's first year as a teacher has to be less about the children and more about him surviving.
At lunch Prez watches Dukie show Crystal Judkins and her friends how to shop for jewellery on the internet. He notices that Michael is despondent at the back of the class. Prez asks if Michael is alright but Michael does not confide in him. Prez leaves his door open or suggests that Michael could talk to the school social worker. Michael goes to pick Bug up after school but learns from his teacher, Miss Ella, that his father has already taken him. Michael runs out of the school after them. He finds Bug doing homework with his father and insists that Bug stay away from him.
Parenti, Colvin and the special class teacher discuss their teachers. The academics are impressed with their results but have noticed that some of the children are not participating – those with deeper problems in particular. The teacher has seen signs of Oppositional Defiant Disorder and believes that Chandra has real psychological problems. Parenti wonders whether they can convince the corner kids to take an interest in subjects beyond what they know about.
Namond gives his package to Kenard and tells him that he is a lieutenant and warns him not to cheat him on the profits. Namond delivers his takings to his mother and she notices that he has made less than she would expect from a full package. He blames his territory and she leaves to convince Bodie to give Namond better territory.
Sergeant Jay Landsman briefs his squad before their shift. He introduces them to Tommy Carcetti who will be observing them. He also announces the death of Colonel Raymond Foerster and the detectives wake that evening. Bunk Moreland, Lester Freamon, Kima Greggs, Ed Norris, Vernon Holley and Mike Crutchfield are all present for the briefing. When Carcetti finishes the coffee in the breakroom Greggs insists that he make another pot. Greggs is hostile towards Carcetti because of the political inferference in the Braddock case. Carcetti asks the detectives to continue as usual. Greggs, Freamon and Landsman immediately stop pretending to work.
After the briefing Bunk tries to convince Holley and Crutchfield to revisit the scene of the shooting that Omar Little has been arrested for. He finds their witness, Old Face Andre, shady. They remain resistant to his efforts to get them to reopen the case. Carcetti approaches them and remarks on the case load they face. Crutchfield insists they can handle it. Crutchfield continues the conversation in an interview room and becomes enraged with Bunk. As the three detectives talk, Crutchfield claims that Omar is no historical figure like George Washington Carver, rather he is just another petty criminal whose name rings up on multiple open cases including two of Bunk's. Crutchfield becomes more enraged with Bunks' attempts to go back on the case thinking that he is doing so to discredit a clearance of his. After Crutchfield leaves Bunk appeals to Holley to look over the scene one more time.
At Foerster’s wake Bunk is so drunk he vomits and on returning to the bar is disgusted to find his old partner Jimmy McNulty drinking club soda. Cedric Daniels, Ilene Nathan and Rhonda Pearlman are also in attendance.
The next day Holley accompanies Bunk to Andre’s store. Holley asks Andre to retell the story on behalf of Bunk who finds holes in Andre leaving the bulletproof area being threatened by a 9 mm handgun. As Andre is explaining that he was trying to save the delivery woman's life, Bunk notices the back door, stock inventory, and cameras that are a part of his store. Bunk then notices bullet hole from the earlier robbery that Omar did perform and asks Andre about it – Andre claims the perpetrator wore a mask and he did not find time to report it. Bunk asks Andre to come in with them but he refuses. Outside Bunk claims that Andre's "whole story's fucked" as it makes no sense for Andre to have survived the robbery as a live witness and that there's no sense in him leaving his bulletproof register area to come out amongst other things. Bunk then states the store's main function is a "drug depot" having noticed the reinforced steel door, low inventory, and security cameras. Bunk tells Holley that Andre is lying about Omar performing the second robbery as why Omar would use a 9mm weapon in the second robbery when the first time he brought a high enough calibre weapon to shoot through Andre’s glass. Finally Bunk states that Andre did what he did only to get back at Omar for robbing his stash citing the motive for his lie convincing Holley that Andre ran a con on the police.
Bunk returns to Andre’s store with a grand jury summons, finding him talking with a prostitute before bringing him in. Bunk and Holley then warn Andre that lying to the police is a much less serious charge than lying to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury Prosecutor then tells Andre it's a ten year minimum for perjury on the stand that is sentenced "all the time" forcing Andre into retracting his story before he is even put before the witness stand. Bunk and Holley deliver the information to Landsman who is enraged that he has lost a clearance to Bunk’s interference. Landsman berates Bunk's interference and claims Holley should stand up for himself.
Lieutenant Charlie Marimow pulls up his sergeant Thomas "Herc" Hauk having just received a harassment complaint. The complaint is from the woman who Herc was tricked into stopping at a train station. Marimow reprimands Herc in front of his subordinate Officer Kenneth Dozerman. He asks Herc for the source of the tip that led him to making his stop. Herc claims it was from a confidential informant. Marimow demands the source's name and Herc uses the non-existent CI – Fuzzy Dunlop (Herc has been illegally pocketing the payments made to "Fuzzy" since season two).
Herc and Dozerman make a traffic stop on Marlo. Herc insists that Marlo return his camera and Marlo promises nothing but takes Herc’s card. After Marlo leaves Dozerman urges Herc to come clean about the camera to Marimow. Herc persists in harassing Marlo hoping that he will convince him to give the camera back. He enlists the Western DEU squad in making a raid on Marlo’s courtyard hangout. Next Herc stops Chris and Snoop. They hide their guns in an electric hidden compartment in their vehicle's dashboard but Herc does find their lime and nail gun in the trunk. He fires a nail into the pavement and then tells them he wants his camera back.
Herc and Dozerman discuss their next move now that has intimidation has failed. Herc remembers Randy’s information about Little Kevin and suggests they look for him to get information on Lex’s murder to get to Marlo.
Snoop and Chris Partlow casually deposit the bodies of two New York drug dealers in a vacant building, board it up and then go out for Chinese food. Later they teach some young Stanfield soldiers to kill on the streets.
Marlo delivers Herc’s card to Proposition Joe and Slim Charles. Joe promises to look into it and thanks Marlo for the work his people are doing driving away the New York drug dealers. Slim Charles suggests that Marlo’s technique of disappearing the bodies of his soldier’s victims is lessening the impact of their kills. Marlo agrees to leave some bodies on the street.
Joe phones the police department and poses as a lawyer who needs to speak to Herc. He is transferred to Lieutenant Hoskin’s at the mayor’s security detail who tells him that Herc has been reassigned to the Major Crimes Unit.
Chris and Snoop hit the streets to find more New York dealers. Chris plans to ask a question about Baltimore to prove that their target is not from Baltimore and then kill him. Snoop is not as knowledgeable about Baltimore music as Chris and almost kills a local dealer by mistake. Chris takes over asking the questions and they find a New York dealer and kill him, leaving the body on the street.
Chris and Snoop throw their weapons into the harbour after they are stopped by Herc. Chris also throws the nailgun in and Snoop tells him that he owes her money for it.
Tommy Carcetti continues his observation of the Baltimore Police Department at work spending the day in the Eastern District with the DEU squad. The shift lieutenant introduces him to a team of confident detectives at their morning briefing. They make their first arrest by enticing a man on his way to work to buy drugs for him. Carcetti catches up with the flex squad and finds that they are also making an arrest with little more than statistical value – a young boy they have pulled up for possession. The flex squad try to get the boy to give them information on a stash but he has nothing to tell them. The lieutenant seems positive about the work his men are doing.
Carcetti discusses his disappointment in the low level target making statistics approach he has seen with Deputy Commissioner William Rawls. Rawls claims that Mayor Clarence Royce pressured the department for statistics and that affirmative action has turned much of the departments work into a numbers game. He claims that a 20% hike in the hiring of African American officers has been needed to match the city demographically both in new recruits and up the chain of the command. He says from this, some officers are promoted too early creating a lack of quality leaders in the department. From there, it is said more numbers games are made with an emphasis on a stastical reduction of crime rather than training quality police officers to do good police work. Rawls claims that targeting high end drug dealers would be his preference but that he respects the chain of command, no matter who is in charge of him and sees it more important to be a good solider in the department than a good police officer. Rawls states that the BPD is "putting a bandaid on cancer" to fight the war on drugs and would be interested in working with a department that had a different investigative strategy. After the meeting Norman Wilson is offended by Rawls’ take on affirmative action while Carcetti sees the sense in what he told them. Carcetti asks Wilson about Western District Commander Cedric Daniels, an African American officer in the department whom Carcetti views as a competent and good police officer and Wilson tells him that he does not have any political connections.
Assistant State’s Attorney Rhonda Pearlman visits Daniels at his office and finds him on the phone with Carcetti. Daniels tells her that Carcetti wants to meet with him to discuss what is successful in the police department. Daniels asks Pearlman how honest she thinks he should be. Pearlman tells him to be himself despite his worries that the mayor will not get rid of the current commissioner Ervin Burrell and Rawls.
Carcetti, Wilson and Gerry meet with representatives from the Democratic party to discuss strategy for his term. They hope to induce a drop in crime and build something in the downtown area with Carcetti’s name on it. The party representative suggests that education is a good polling issue but Wilson tells her that with the problems in Baltimore’s schools Carcetti will be better off avoiding that topic. The party hopes that Carcetti will run for governor in 2008.
Carcetti meets with Daniels to discuss his concerns about the department. Daniels tells Carcetti that much of day to day police work in Baltimore is a waste of time, energy, efficiency, money and in some cases talent. Carcetti reveals that Rawls has blamed Burrell’s numbers game. Daniels is disbelieving but refuses to discuss his superiors with Carcetti. He does point Carcetti towards Rawls gutting the Major Crimes Unit. Carcetti offers Daniels the CID commander colonel position under Rawls. Daniels asks Carcetti if he can trust him and Carcetti suggests they find out together.
- This is the second episode in which a "police wake" is held, where the deceased is laid out on the pool table in an Irish bar as the assembled sing The Pogues' song "The Body of An American." A previous such wake was held for Ray Cole (Robert F. Colesberry) in "Dead Soldiers". In both cases, the death of the character followed the real-life death of the actor. The police wake was filmed at The Sidebar, one of Baltimore's most unusual nightspots due to its reputation for being "a lawyer bar by day, a punk bar by night, and a karaoke bar the second Friday of every month."
- Michael goes to pick up Bug at a recreation center run by a "Miss Ella." Ella Thompson, who was known as "Miss Ella", organized a rec center in Baltimore in the early 1990s, and was played by Tyra Ferrell in the HBO miniseries The Corner, co-written by David Simon and Ed Burns and produced by Robert F. Colesberry prior to their creation of The Wire. In this instance Ell Thompson was portrayed by Denise Preddy - who herself attended the rec center in 1993 when Simon was observing the neighborhood. In both this show and The Corner the rec center was named the Martin Luther King recreation center. Fundraisers are held after every Wire season that benefit the Ella Fund, run by the Parks and Peoples in Baltimore.
- A DNC strategist tells Carcetti that his term as mayor may position him for a future run for Governor of Maryland. Two days after this episode was aired, Martin O'Malley, the real-life mayor of Baltimore, was elected Governor.