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East Bronx Story—Return of the Street Gangs

". . .Without much notice, it seems, street gangs have again become a problem in New York City, this time on a scale with a potential for violence that may be unprecedented . . ."


From the March 27, 1972 issue of New York Magazine.

At 4 p.m. one Saturday last month, a tall, thin, eighteen-year-old youth called Judd was standing on Daly Avenue in the South Bronx fingering the butt of the sawed-off shotgun that jutted from the top of his dungarees. Flanking him on either side were two other young men, Mike and P.I., both seventeen, both with pearl-handled .22-caliber pistols in their belts. All three wore the colors of a Bronx street gang called the Black Assassins.

Facing them not more than five feet away was an eighteen-year-old youth named Alvin, president of the Majestic Warlocks. Standing alongside Alvin were Power, 22, and Butter, 20, both leaders of a group called the Old Timers, a sort of alumni club for old Warlocks. If any of these three was packing weapons, they were well concealed.

Across the street a boy of about fifteen, a Warlock, could be seen crouching in a doorway, the barrel of a rifle barely visible in the shadows. Two more Warlocks had circled around a car and stood side by side on the curb behind the Assassins, their right hands hidden in the folds of their jackets. Along Daly Avenue, ordinarily one of the most heavily patrolled neighborhoods in the Bronx, no squad cars passed by. (Cops, gang members swear, know when to lie low.)

It was a faceoff on the Assassins' home turf, the long block on Daly Avenue between 180th and 181st Streets. The confrontation was occasioned by an incident the night before at a party in the Warlocks' basement clubhouse several blocks away up the snake-like hill that borders Crotona Park. The details are obscure, but the incident apparently involved the roughing-up of the girl friend of a Black Assassin who had had too much to drink. The Assassins had fired two shots, No one had been hurt. The only damage, apparently, was to both gangs' pride.

On the street Saturday afternoon Judd was the first to speak.

"You want to talk?" he said. "We're ready."

Power spoke for the Warlocks. He was at least an inch taller than Judd and several pounds heavier. He and Butter had both been presidents of the Majestic Warlocks in their day. Now, as Old Timers, their concerns ranged over the entire Warlock tribe, which includes four separate divisions in four parts of the Bronx. They go wherever trouble develops.

Power opened his denim jacket at the hip, showing no weapon. "We're clean, man," he said.

"Well, we're not," Judd said, with an uncertain smile.

"How you gonna talk with a piece in your belt?" Power said. He stepped back a foot or two and the entire Warlocks contingent seemed to fan out very slightly.

At that moment a lean, young, well-groomed Puerto Rican who had been leaning against the wall of a nearby apartment house came forward. José Ramos, a 21-year-old street worker who had been reassigned to desk duty in Brooklyn in an office of the Youth Services Agency after a recent administrative shakeup, was on his own time, but his presence on Daly Avenue that Saturday last month was no accident. Through sources painfully built up over time, Ramos had learned of the incident the night before and of the confrontation that figured to follow. Both Judd and Power knew Ramos as "T.C.," the nickname he had used since his own day as leader of a Bronx gang called the Royal Javelins.

Ramos stepped between the two groups and spoke quietly for a few minutes. He persuaded Power, Butter, and Alvin to talk the matter out in the Assassins' basement headquarters. It was a considerable concession; on the street the advantage was theirs. As the six youths and Ramos headed down an alleyway to the Assassins' meeting place, at least 25 previously unnoticed Warlocks suddenly emerged—from shadowed doorways, out from behind parked cars, clambering down from fire escapes.

Inside the Assassins' basement headquarters—two dimly lit rooms with painted stone walls and several lumpy chairs and sofas salvaged from sidewalk junk heaps—the Warlocks remained standing.

"We didn't come here to make you apologize," Power said. "We just came for an apology."

Judd became angry. "If anyone has apologizing to do . . ."

Butter tried his hand. "Look," he said, "let's get this down to the brothers who did what to who."

"We don't work that way," P.I. said. "We settle scores as a group." "Didn't you sign the 'Family Treaty'?" Ramos said quietly to P.I.

A long silence followed. Then both sides started talking at the same time, not arguing, just talking, and soon after the quarrel seemed resolved, with each side apologizing to the other and handshakes all around. Then the Majestic Warlocks departed in peace.


Related:

  • Archive: “Features
  • From the Mar 27, 1972 issue of New York
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