Recent sparring between teenage “youth crews” has left many West Harlem, Manhattanville, and Morningside Heights residents feeling unsafe, although police say they are taking steps to combat the increase in violence.
Youth crews have been widely blamed for a perceived spike in crime in West Harlem, as well as in the Grant and Manhattanville housing projects. According to tenants, the perpetrators are mostly around 16 to 17 and the disputes are normally over issues like drugs, girls, and clothing.
The September murder of Grant Homes resident Tayshana Murphy, an 18-year-old basketball star, has triggered violent reprisals against teenagers in the neighboring Manhattanville Homes, where Murphy's killers lived.
"We all know it's not like it used to be," said Marie Jackson, a resident of Grant Homes since 1965.
Captain Kevin Williams, from the New York Police Department’s 28th Precinct, met with parents and students at P.S. 180 Hugo Newman early last month to talk about the violence brought on by the youth crews. Williams addressed several concerns, ranging from illegal motorcycle gangs in Harlem to the citywide accessibility of cheap handguns.
Residents at the meeting said they were very concerned about the violence, particularly about the ongoing feud between youth crews in the Grant and Manhattanville housing projects. Jackson said there should be greater police presence in the area, especially considering that the 27th Precinct is located right between the Grant Homes and the Manhattanville Homes.
Some residents also said that the subway station at E. 116th Street and Lexington Avenue is troubled by teenage violence, particularly around the time school gets out each day. One mother said her child was mugged at the station just after school one day, telling Williams it needs more police presence.
“The life of a do-good 14-year-old is no less valuable than that of a mother and five-year-old walking home,” she said.
Williams said at the event that the NYPD is trying to deal with the youth crews. To start, he said, he is increasing visible foot patrols and car patrols in West Harlem, especially near schools. He also assured residents that his officers would be more reactive, and not just “sit in the car doing paperwork,” as one parent put it.
“I would like my officers to be more attentive,” Williams said. “One, it deters crime. Two, it makes people feel safer. Three, it’s the right thing to do.”
Williams also said that the NYPD will continue to work with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the NYC Police Athletic League, and the Pro Hoops basketball training service to provide free after-school basketball sessions to teenagers in Harlem and Morningside Heights.
The program, which is financed through confiscated drug money, began weekday trial runs in October. Williams said the trials have been successful, and the program is being expanded to Fridays and Saturdays.
But Williams acknowledged that one of the biggest remaining problems is how easy it is for teenagers to get handguns. Many people at the meeting asked where the guns were coming from, and why there are so many of them.
One meeting attendee described recently hearing gunshots near a school.
“I called a detective, he was really smart, really caring, but reflected an exhaustion going after guns,” the person said. “The feel was he would never find the culprit."
According to Williams, the gun problem is bigger than the 28th District, although he said the NYPD is making a citywide effort to bring down gun crime and gun smuggling.
“A lot of this is a political situation,” he said. “Different states have different laws and a lot of the guns come from southern states. We live in a society where if you really want something it’s available at the click of a mouse.”