They talked about how they love "The Wire."
And just like the drug dealers on that TV drama, they talked and talked, as police listened in on wiretaps.
One of the more important bits of information to come out of the arrests this week of 25 members of the so-called Dirty Blok drug ring in Atlantic City was that 18-year-old Derreck Mack, who was shot and killed by an Atlantic City police officer Dec. 19, was an alleged associate of the gang, was armed the day he was killed and had been talking about shooting at police.
Authorities have said that the officer who shot Mack believed he was about to pull a weapon. The Dirty Blok wiretaps lend significant credence to that allegation. In fact, it was undercover federal agents conducting surveillance who called in the initial report of two armed men to local police that day.
Federal, state and local law-enforcement authorities deserve praise for the cooperation that led to the Dirty Blok investigation and the raid. In addition to the 25 alleged gang members arrested Tuesday and charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin, six others - including the alleged leader, Mykal Derry - were already in custody.
Derry and his brother, Malik Derry, are charged with the Feb. 10 murder of a drug rival. The Derry brothers were arrested the day after the murder at the Motor Vehicle Commission office in Egg Harbor Township, where they had gone to obtain an ID for Malik, the alleged shooter, so he could frequent a shooting range in Lakewood.
"He don't need to go. Look like everybody else do," Mykal Derry's girlfriend was recorded saying on federal wiretaps.
We are tempted to say the level of depravity described in the 225-page federal complaint is shocking. But sadly it is all too familiar - to fans of "The Wire" and to the people of Atlantic City.
Dirty Blok allegedly controlled the distribution of heroin and other drugs in the troubled Stanley Holmes Village and a handful of other housing projects in the city. They ruled the projects through fear and intimidation, using younger gang members to kill rivals and turning public-housing apartments into "trap houses" where drugs were stored and distributed, according to federal prosecutors.
The arrests came after a two-day gun buyback in Atlantic City and Pleasantville netted 2,061 guns, the second-highest total of five buybacks held by state and local police since December.
Both the Dirty Blok arrests and the gun buyback are certainly encouraging signs. The law-abiding folks who live day in and day out with this drug violence must sometimes feel as though they are all alone, with no help in sight. The 300 federal agents and state and local police who made the pre-dawn arrests this week were, no doubt, a welcome sight to many.
Unfortunately, Dirty Blok is believed to be only one of 10 gangs operating in Atlantic City. A group called the 800 Blok reportedly controls the drug trade in Atlantic City's Back Maryland section.
And saddest of all, by now another gang has probably already moved into Dirty Blok's turf. The cycle continues, fueled by an unending demand for drugs and a lost generation of violent, amoral youths drawn into the drug and gang culture.
We wish we knew what could be done about that. But no one does. In the meantime, all we can do is thank the federal, state and local law-enforcement authorities who brought down Dirty Blok - and hope they are still out there listening in.