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The Reeler Blog

Gangsters Work it Out

(L-R) Nicky Barnes and Frank Lucas (Photo: NYM)

By S.T. VanAirsdale

Words fail me on increasingly frequent bases these days, such as in the aftermath of reading the riveting conversation between Nicky Barnes and Frank Lucas in this week's issue of New York Magazine. The respective subjects of the documentary Mr. Untouchable and the sprawling crime saga American Gangster, the duo ruled Harlem's heroin trade for the better part of the 1970s before excess, recklessness and just plain bad luck caught up with each. Mark Jacobson, the New York Mag writer on whose 2000 piece "The Return of Superfly" screenwriter Steven Zaillian based American Gangster, marshaled a phone call between the duo last week:

MJ: Any second thoughts, Nick?

NB: No, man. When I realized they left me on the battlefield to die, I said, “Fuck it!” ... I said, “I’ll pull those motherfuckers in, let them see what it’s like.” I would rather be out here in the witness program than to be in jail with them. Why would I wanna be in there with them kinda niggers? I don’t regret it. I saw this show on CNN, with Anderson Cooper. Cats were talking about “Don’t snitch, no matter what happens.” Well, I can’t see how a guy can be considered strong if he lets a bunch of assholes walk all over him and he doesn’t respond, just because of some code that a bunch of idiots have cooked up. Anderson Cooper asked this rapper, “Suppose a child was molested and you knew who this molester was. Would you tell the police?” He said, “No.” So that’s what I’m sayin’—the street guidelines are just moron bullshit.

MJ: Frank? Do you think there’s a time when it’s good to cooperate?

I told you before. I never testified on nobody.

MJ: Some cases were made, Frank.

FL: Look! I have remorse about what I did.

NB: Frank, talk a little softer. You’re yelling.

FL: I have remorse. I never sold nothing to a kid in the street, but I found out that my people had. I didn’t want to sell to kids. I didn’t want to make them junkies. I didn’t want to be a part of it. I justify it by saying during my time, I couldn’t get a job on Wall Street, not even washing toilets. I went to school three days and the teacher wasn’t there two of them. I had to make a living. I didn’t want to be just a damn bum in the street. So that’s what I did. But it’s complicated. When you get there, every rat in the goddamned woods is gonna come running to you. And anytime you don’t got no money, everybody disappears. Tell ’em, Nick.

: Most people say you guys hated each other, but it seems like you were buddies. What’s the story?

NB: I’ll tell you what a lot of people don’t understand. See, you read in the paper about people having shooting wars about turf. But both of us operated in that 116th Street area, and it was no problem. If only one of us had had powder out there, every time the police came out, they would have been able to surveil out that one group. But if there’s a lot of people out there ...

It's all kind of otherworldly, really, and probably the best opportunity for procrastination you'll find all day. Of course, if you're looking for another, check out The Reeler's chat last week with Mr. Untouchable producer Damon Dash, and drop by Thursday for more with Dash and Gangster principles Denzel Washington and Ridley Scott.

Posted at October 30, 2007 12:20 PM

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