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Did A Sweeping Gang Takedown Actually Make The Bronx Any Safer?

Rasheid Butler, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence as part of the 2016 gang takedown
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Rasheid Butler, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence as part of the 2016 gang takedown Richard Yeh/ WNYC

Last month, the NYPD reported that while crime in the city overall has been declining, the Bronx has seen murders nearly double in 2018. 51 of the 147 murders in the city occured in the Bronx, and the borough had 29 fatal shootings this year, according to an NYPD announcement in early July. Since then, the number has been updated. The latest data shows a 30 percent rise in murders in the Bronx in the past year. In an attempt to reverse this, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced $68 million for a new stationhouse for the 40th precinct in Mott Haven and an increase the number of cops in the 48th precinct in East Tremont.

"While crime is at a record low in New York City, there is still more work to do to ensure that every New Yorker feels safe in their neighborhood," de Blasio said in a statement. “This new precinct will strengthen the bond between community and police, which will ultimately help make the South Bronx and our City safer."

These numbers come two years after a massive gang takedown in the Bronx, the biggest in New York City history. 120 people were arrested, from gang leaders to low level drug dealers to an MBA student in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was a case that involved the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Department of Homeland Security, and was seen as a massive success for the NYPD’s precision policing initiative.

But the most recent crime numbers raise questions about how effective this gang takedown—and the hundred-plus that followed—was at reducing crime in the borough.

WNYC’s Mirela Iverac has been following this mass police action for the past two years, and just released a story and radio series “Takedown in the Bronx.”


Listen to the whole series here

The two warring crews had killed at least eight people in their teens and early 20s. At a press conference the day of the gang takedown, law enforcement officials said that these gangs "terrorized" the neighborhood.

“We bring these charges today so that all New Yorkers, including those in or near NYCHA public housing, can live their lives as they deserve: free of drugs, free of guns, and free of gang violence,” said Preet Bharara, then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District.

Northeast Bronx residents had mixed reactions to the gang takedown. Some residents were relieved by the quieter neighborhood where their children could play safely, while others saw this action as another way for the police to arrest low level drug offenders. Iverac reported from a community center at the Eastchester Gardens housing project ten days after the takedown.

“This has happened in some places in Brooklyn, Hunts Point in the South Bronx, Queensbridge. This only happens really in the black communities, in the minority communities, in Hispanic communities,” said a young man named Joshua Whittlock. “The feds … they must love us that much. They love us so much that the only people they want to protect is the black community by incarcerating most of the black community.”

CUNY Law School professor K. Babe Howell has argued that this new kind of gang policing is just a way to continue racial profiling now that stop-and-frisk has ended. “Gangs ranked last and second-to-last among the causes of murder in the two years since the NYPD added the category of 'gangs' as a cause of murder to its annual reports,” Howell writes in a 2015 paper. Howell continues:

Why would the NYPD commit more officers to gang policing than there are gang-motivated crimes in New York City? Why would it quadruple its gang division in two years during which violent crimes have reached the lowest level in recorded history? The answer to these questions is that the class action challenging the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk threatened to foreclose the NYPD’s ability to monitor youth of color in the absence of crime based on appearance and geography...For the NYPD to relinquish the intensive policing of these suspect populations is unthinkable. The NYPD is driven by crime statistics and believes that aggressively policing a particular suspect class, which happens to be defined by race and class, is the reason for crime decline.

Police and prosecutors counter that gang takedowns are effective at securing witnesses to cooperate in murder trials. “When you're dealing with a community that, whether out of fear or distrust of the police or hostility to the police, isn't ready to produce the eyewitnesses, the way those murders end up getting pursued is probably through somebody who is in dire jeopardy,” said Daniel Richman, who worked as a federal prosecutor in the Southern District told WNYC.

The NYPD also touted a reduction in crime after the gang takedown. In September of 2016, the NYPD said that the previous summer was the safest in modern history.

But the question now is whether the Bronx truly is safer, and how the low-level offenders, who will be released soon, will fare when they head back home. Lloyd Rodriguez, who served 10 months after pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy for selling marijuana, doesn't think the city has committed to helping make the situation better—like higher-performing schools or addressing staggering unemployment—for the next generation of Bronx residents.

Rodriguez told Iverac:

If the community was so bad and the projects was horrible, why are y’all releasing us back into that same spot? Like why don’t y’all help us come home to something different? My brother will be coming back to this, the same neighborhood. The cycle don’t stop. The same thing that happened with us was happening before us and before them, and it’s going to happen with the kids that’s younger than us. Because after the indictment nothing changed for the kids out there. After a while the kids who was playing basketball in the park, start smoking in a park. And the kids who start smoking in the park, they start shooting in the park. It’s just the cycle.

Read the entire WNYC investigation, and listen to the series, here.

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