Three years after Wes first decided to start work as a lookout, Tony is furiously asking his younger brother where he got the money to buy so many new pairs of sneakers. Wes tells him he’s become a popular neighborhood DJ, which is the same story he’s been telling Mary. Unlike Mary, however, Tony doesn’t believe him, and he asks Wes again and again. Wes keeps lying until Tony takes a swing at him, punching him in the face. Mary walks in to the sound of her sons fighting and asks what’s going on. Although Wes has been arrested twice before—once for pulling the knife in front of the police and another time for carjacking—Mary wanted to believe that Wes had been staying away from drugs. Now she knows that both of her sons’ innocent childhoods are truly over.
Tony’s anger at Wes is somewhat difficult to understand. Considering Tony deals drugs himself, how can he be so angry that Wes is doing it too? Is he simply hypocritical? Tony’s actions make more sense, however, when we consider that his anger is not really directed at Wes at all, but rather at a younger version of himself. As Moore has mentioned, Tony regrets getting in the game so young, but now feels like there is no way out. His regret and frustration turn to violent anger, which he takes out onto his younger brother.
Tony announces that he is giving up and leaves. Mary tends to her younger son’s wounds, but Wes is inconsolable. He wants desperately to be like Tony and for Tony to like him, but the more he tries, the more Tony pushes him away. After the encounter, Mary digs through Wes’s belongings and comes across pills, marijuana, and both crack and powder cocaine. Furious, Mary flushes the drugs down the toilet. When Wes arrives home and discovers the drugs are missing, he panics and yells at Mary, telling her she flushed away $4,000. Mary, however, is unremorseful. Wes urgently tries to figure out a way to make the money back. He realized long ago that the demand for drugs is “bottomless,” and thus making money in the game comes down to being both fast and intimidating. Wes’s girlfriend agrees to let him store his drugs at her place from now on. Meanwhile, Mary despairingly wonders how both her sons turned out to be drug dealers. To make matters more desperate, Tony is about to have his first child.
Although Wes has clearly made a series of bad decisions leading up to this moment, it is difficult not to feel some level of sympathy with him—particularly in light of his relationship with Tony. Like most younger brothers, Wes looks up to Tony and wishes to emulate him. In doing so, he not only lies to and deeply upsets Mary, but he ends up alienating Tony as well. With his relationship with his two closest family members under strain, Wes is left alone to figure out how to move forward. While this could have turned into an opportunity to reevaluate his decisions and get out of the game, Wes does not have a chance to reflect due to the fact that he needs to make the $4,000 back immediately.
Back in the Bronx, Moore is rapping along to a song about drugs while a horrified Joy looks on. Moore has been performing badly in school, and Joy is beginning to believe his teachers’ claims that he has a learning disability. Joy has gone “through the stages of grief” in response to Moore’s poor academic performance, although she is now in a permanent state of anger. While hip hop has become a more and more important part of Moore’s identity, Joy is dismissive of this interest and only focuses on her son’s poor grades. Moore is skipping school frequently, encouraged by a teacher who told him that the class runs better when he is not there. Joy is overworked and constantly busy, leaving the kids to look out for themselves. Nikki has struggled ever since the move to the Bronx but Shani is a “prodigy” who has already overtaken Moore in reading ability.
Moore does not hesitate to admit that he was making irresponsible decisions during this time, and neglecting the education that his mother is working so hard to pay for. On the other hand, it is also clear that Moore feels misunderstood by the society around him. The cruel words of his teacher confirm Moore’s existing feeling of alienation at Riverdale, making him feel unwanted and worthless. It is thus somewhat unsurprising that Moore does not feel motivated to perform well in school, and prefers to spend time listening to the messages of racial empowerment in rap music.
Moore mentions an occasion in which Shani ends up in a physical fight with two other neighborhood girls called Ingrid and Lateshia. Infuriated, Moore marches over to confront Lateshia (who punched Shani) accompanied by his aunt. In spite of the presence of Lateshia’s tough older brother, Moore warns her not to touch Shani again. At this stage, the streets are a big part of Moore’s life. He has had direct experiences of gang violence, drug crime, and encounters with the police, and some of his friends have started working as “runners” for drug dealers, including his friend Shea. All the kids have a “tag,” which they spray-paint around the neighborhood; Moore’s is “KK,” standing for “Kid Kupid.” One day when Moore is spray-painting his tag with Shea, police officers pull up and handcuff the boys. During this era, tensions between black communities and the police have been drastically escalated by the drug issue.
Although Moore is still only a child, he is forced to deal with serious and often dangerous situations. The fight between Shani and Lateshia may seem tame, but the presence of Lateshia’s older brother indicates how easily their scuffle could escalate into something far more threatening. Moore’s childishness is revealed in his tag, which takes the form of a rather comic boast about his romantic prowess. Yet being a child does not protect Moore from having to deal with difficult, dangerous issues such as drug crime, gang violence, and police brutality. The world around him forces him to grow up fast, even if he is not yet emotionally ready to do so.
Moore panics, dreading the thought of Joy having to collect him from jail. His relationship with his mother is already under strain as a result of his problems at school, and although Moore pretends to be casually dismissive of this fact, in reality he is desperate for Joy’s support and approval. He feels lonely, suspecting that even his friendship with his crew is “contingent” and flimsy. While Moore grows increasingly distressed, Shea seems “cocky and smug.” The police officer gives the boys a stern lecture, warning them that although they are only children now, if they don’t choose a different path he’ll be seeing more of them in years to come. Moore is furious that Shea is treating the situation so casually, thereby putting both of them at risk. Moore feels an intense sense of regret not only about this particular moment, but also the whole “King Kupid” situation altogether. The police release the boys, and Moore pulls Shea away before he gets the chance to do anything provocative. A week later, however, Moore is back on the streets spray-painting his tag once again.
Reading Moore’s account of this period in his life can be exasperating. He repeatedly ignores the advice of his mother, the police, and even his own conscience, instead choosing to pursue activities that risk ruining his life. Given that Moore is aware of the dangers of engaging in criminal activity, why does he choose to do it anyway? Peer pressure is certainly a factor—driven by a desire to fit in with the neighborhood kids and to distance himself from his preppy “white” school, Moore feels the need to seem tough and rebellious. It is also important to bear in mind that spray-painting graffiti is arguably not a serious crime, but rather a form of youthful self-expression. Moore is not harming anyone or even causing real damage. Is it fair that he is handcuffed and threatened with arrest?