More Than 100 Arrested In Largest Gang Takedown In NYC History

Apr 27, 2016
Originally published on April 27, 2016 6:33 pm
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Prosecutors are calling it the biggest gang takedown in New York City history. Dozens of people were arrested during early-morning raids in the Bronx. In all, 120 defendants are charged with murder, drug trafficking and other crimes. But as NPR's Joel Rose reports, critics question whether arrests alone can solve the problems that led to gang violence.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: For years, prosecutors say, two rival gangs fought over turf in the north Bronx. And U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara says civilians got caught in the crossfire.

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PREET BHARARA: These gangs have been at war with each other and other gangs in the Bronx for nearly a decade, as we alleged. If you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, you could be shot, stabbed, even killed.

ROSE: Today, Bharara announced charges against 120 alleged members of the Big Money Bosses and the Too Fly Young Gunnaz, a gang with national ties. The indictments read long list of nicknames - Jungle, Spanks, Boogie-boo, Manny Fresh. But Bharara says these guys were tough, and they terrorized the residents of the Eastchester Gardens housing project.

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BHARARA: They even took over a playground in the middle of Eastchester Gardens. And instead of children playing in safety, members of Too Fly allegedly stored guns and sold drugs in that playground. Today's charges and arrests essentially dismantle the Too Fly gang from top to bottom.

ROSE: Overall, crime in New York City is down, but shootings remain a big problem in some neighborhoods. And Police Commissioner William Bratton sounds confident that today's arrests will make the north Bronx safer.

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WILLIAM BRATTON: I've often said we cannot arrest our way out of some of the larger challenges our society faces. But in this instance, handcuffs are just what are needed. These gang members do not belong on our streets. Instead, they belong exactly where they're going - to federal prison for many years.

BABE HOWELL: This is a very short-term, let's clean up one symptom of a larger problem, and not a way to address the real gang problems.

ROSE: Babe Howell is a former criminal defender who now studies gangs and policing at the City University of New York School of Law. Howell says big raids like the one this morning could inadvertently make the city's gang problem worse. She'd rather see the government put more resources into outreach efforts to help gang members get out.

HOWELL: Many people just join gangs in order to be safe. And when they're old enough, they try to move away from them. But if instead you sentence people to five, 10 or 15 years on a felony, those gang ties are some of the most important and lasting that you have.

ROSE: And Howell says, big, predawn raids like the one this morning can actually undermine trust between communities and the police.

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UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Police.

ROSE: That's a video clip from the raids, provided by the NYPD. In the north Bronx, residents say they were surprised by the sound of helicopters hovering overhead early this morning. Still, Bronx resident Maria Rosado (ph) says she supports the arrests.

MARIA ROSADO: When I first moved here, it was very good. I moved here almost 30 years ago. And it's gotten quite a little bit worse. And with this, I hope it gets better.

DAVID LOPEZ: This gang thing is just an epidemic.

ROSE: David Lopez (ph) is glad to see the NYPD confront the gang problem. But Lopez also has some sympathy for young people who turn to gangs.

LOPEZ: These kids are having background records where they've been arrested. They're not being hired because of their background. They got to get programs for them where they can get a steady, nice job, get them more educated.

ROSE: But for now, Lopez says, he's glad to see gang members off the corner. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.