There are nearly 60 street crews--subsets of gangs--in the Bronx, and they include members as young as eight years old.
NYPD Assistant Commissioner Kevin O'Connor, who heads up the department's new Juvenile Justice Division, urged parents in the borough to seek clues about their children's crew involvement--and made a somewhat shocking suggestion: Don't tell your kids to stay out of them.
"Just because a kid is in a crew doesn't make him a perp," O'Connor told a Youth Summit held at Fordham University last week. "It's called survival."
If you tell a kid to stay out of gangs, he'll likely ask you how he's supposed to safely enter his building, O'Connor said.
"Until we come up with an answer, I'm not telling them to get out," he said.
O’Connor painted the grim picture to 100 people gathered at the summit. He said gangsters aren't just Bloods, Crips, Trinitarios and Latin Kings; each Bronx housing project has a street crew. They go by names like Dymes R Us, Billion Dolla Bosses, Mott Haven Gunnaz, and Violating All Bitches.
A week before the summit, 21 members of the "Murda Moore Gangstas," a subset of the Bloods run out of the Moore Houses in Mott Haven, were busted by the NYPD Bronx Gang Squad and federal agents.
"The Moore Houses takedown was a federal takedown and they're looking at serious time," O'Connor said. "I'd like to see a more preventative approach."
While the feds will put away mostly older gangbangers, it's often teens who are getting killed in gang violence nearly every day across the city, O'Connor said.
He mentioned recent cases of kids killed over gang beefs, including the April slaying of Moises Lora, 16 in the Melrose Houses.
"He was associated with the OGz, formerly GFC (God's Favorite Children)," O'Connor said. "They catch him and they stomped him to death, all because he ran with a rival crew."
Sixteen-year-old Jose Webster was killed last September while walking home his girlfriend.
"Someone said, 'You gunnin'?' and shot him 15 times, for no other reason than he said he was gunnin'," O'Connor said. "If the kid doesn't know the right answer, it can get them killed. Jose had no prior criminal record."
Hakiem Yahmadi, 60, whose son was killed in Mott Haven in 2011, helped publicize the summit.
"I think it's going to help, but there should have been more people here," Yahmadi said. “You've got (rallies for) stop and frisk, Trayvon Martin, and Ramarley Graham, but we don't talk about us killing each other."
O’Connor said about 315 crews have been identified citywide. Some are formed among members of rival gangs (Bloods and Crips) to keep the peace.
The young gangsters usually deal marijuana, and rob iPhones and iPads, pricey sneakers, "biggie" down jackets, and fancy headphones.
“The shootings are on facebook," O'Connor said. "The beefs are on facebook. They're on YouTube. We'd be fools not to take advantage of this information."
Elizabeth Thompson, 65, of Kingsbridge said her 17-year-old son Sean Williams was shot in 1997 after intervening in a fight. Now, Thompson says, her son's own son is 17.
"I'm scared whenever he walks out that door," Thompson said. "It might happen to him."
She said she plans to get her grandson to teach her how to use facebook, after what she heard at the summit.