Proposition Joe, East Baltimore Drug Kingpin, Is Dead

Photo: Courtesy of HBO

Joseph "Proposition Joe" Stewart, the rotund, businesslike drug lord of Baltimore's East Side, was killed last night in his home by Marlo Stanfield and his lieutenant Chris Partlow. Prop Joe's exact age was unknown, but he was thought to be in his late fifties.

Joe's credo, followed from an early age, was simple: "You cross me, I'm a snake," he told an elementary-school classmate in 1962. "But on a straight-up proposition, with a handshake? My word is my bond." Joe's reliability made him a successful player in Baltimore's drug trade; his willingness to go to the mats when crossed made him a force to be reckoned with. Long able to deliver the purest heroin in the city, thanks to a connection to a source known only as "The Greek," Joe used a combination of handshake deals and canny tricks to gain territory in West Side housing projects, before forming the New Day Co-Op, a collective of most of the major heroin players in the city.

In many ways, Joe played the game like a gentleman; he preferred negotiation to violence and would willingly make concessions in order to avoid bloodshed. He maintained longstanding ties in the community, and remained his whole adult life in the house bought by his grandfather — the first black man to own his own home in his Baltimore neighborhood. But in the end, it was his trust in community ties that did him in; he made the mistake of believing that the bonds forged by the Co-Op were lasting and real. Though Marlo Stanfield was a competitor, Joe treated him at times like a son — teaching him about the world and, as Joe recently griped, "civilizin' that motherfucker." But Stanfield betrayed him, and Joe's only real kin in the game — his nephew Cheese — was, as it turns out, the weak link in his organization.

Control of the Co-Op has presumably passed to Marlo Stanfield. Prop Joe is survived by Cheese, though probably not for long. He leaves behind an impressive heroin-distribution infrastructure, and the slowest appliance-repair shop in all of Baltimore.