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East Bronx Story—Return of the Street Gangs

Thus, thanks only to the delicate intervention of a city worker under no obligation to be there, and thanks to his timely mention of a "Family Treaty" of doubtful force and durability, a fragile, uneasy calm prevailed on Daly Avenue that cold afternoon last month. Otherwise, Daly could easily have become what several other streets in the South Bronx have already become in recent months and what other streets may very well become before the year gets much older—the setting for a brutal showdown between quarreling youths gathered in street gangs. Without much notice, it seems, street gangs have again become a problem in New York, this time on a scale and with a potential for violence that may be unprecedented—the near certainty of gunplay and a high probability of mindless, trivially motivated homicide.

There are at least 70 separate street gangs in the Bronx alone right now. Some of them, like the Majestic Warlocks, have affiliations with others bearing the same name in various neighborhoods. Others, like the Black Assassins, are independent. In size any one gang will vary from about two dozen to 200, and no one dares estimate how many members the 70 have, combined—4,000 is a reasonable guess.

In the South and East Bronx, predictably, most gangs are all black or all Puerto Rican. But mixed gangs of blacks and Puerto Ricans are not uncommon. In the North Bronx, most gangs are all white. The Five Percenters profess themselves Black Muslims, but most groups have no truck with ideology. (Despite some encounters between blacks and whites, race has not been an important factor in gang action thus far, but the potential is obviously there.)

Chains, knives, fists, and, of course, those crude and unreliable homemade affairs called zip guns were the staples in the more vicious gang wars in the 1940s and 1950s. Today there is scarcely a gang in the Bronx that cannot muster a factory-made piece for every member—at the very least, a .22-caliber pistol, but quite often heavier stuff: .32s, .38s, and .45s, shotguns, rifles, and—I have seen them myself—even machine guns, grenades, and gelignite, an explosive. One gang, the Royal Javelins, has acquired some walkie-talkie radios.

". . . Heroin destroyed the gangs a decade ago. But these new gangs in the Bronx aimed a reign of terror at the drug pushers . . ."

Through the efforts of a remarkable street worker named Eduardo Vincenty, a member of the ten-man "crisis squad" set up in 1970 within the Youth Services Agency of the city's Human Resources Administration, a massive non-aggression pact among Bronx gangs was worked out last fall. Beginning with five gangs from the East Tremont area, Vincenty orchestrated the formation of a "Family Peace Treaty" binding the signatories to talk out differences first before escalating a quarrel and, if talking couldn't settle a matter, to get gang members to settle their differences on a one-to-one basis, with fists only, in a closed room. By November 29, 1971, Vincenty had lined up 68 gangs to sign the Family Treaty.

But as this is written, the Youth Services Agency's ten-man crisis squad is no more, disbanded in an administrative shuffle just last month. (It was in this shuffle that José Ramos was pulled off the Bronx streets and sent to a desk in Brooklyn.) And Vincenty himself, at 26 a five-year veteran mediator of street quarrels, is under doctor's orders to stay in his three-room apartment on Marmion Avenue for now. On January 21 of this year Vincenty took a .22-caliber bullet in his temple as he tried to stop a fight on Tremont Avenue in the West Farms area.

Just how fragile a peace prevails among Bronx gangs was shown only eight hours after José Ramos got the Majestic Warlocks and the Black Assassins to shake hands. On Sunday morning, February 27, just after midnight, a suspected Five Percenter named Emilio White, alias Emilio Esau, was gunned down on Vyse Avenue just up the block from the Assassin clubhouse. The two bullets that entered White's back, according to police of the 48th precinct, were fired from two different .22-caliber pistols of the same make, the kind that comes with a pearl handle. The bullet that entered White's forehead just above the bridge of the nose was a .32, fired at point-blank range. Witnesses to the shooting picked out three faces in a gallery of photos at the station house. All three were identified as Black Assassins—P.I., Mike, and a third whose name the police did not have. Reportedly, it was Judd.

By midafternoon Tuesday, February 29, P.I. and Mike had been arrested and charged with first-degree murder. The cops were said to be looking for Judd. The next day, a friend saw Judd slouching in the shadows across the street from the Bronx Boys Club on Hoe Avenue, a favorite hangout of many gang members. Judd looked as though he hadn't slept for days.


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