Origins

For readers interested in how I first learned of the Triangle Gang War, here's a little background from the book's "Note on Sources" section.

My research for the book began in January 2012 while working for the New York Daily News. I covered the paper’s courts beat in the Bronx, where thousands of Crips and Bloods live and fight. Accordingly, I attended many legal proceedings involving the gangs’ members. I also spent countless hours at crime scenes, plodding through bloodstained streets, learning about turf lines, and picking up gangland gossip wherever I went. In this way, I got a primer on the brutal worlds both gangs inhabit, and developed a fascination with their long-running conflict.

At Bronx Supreme Court, where I spent my workdays, fights between Bloods and Crips regularly broke out in courtrooms and hallways. Things got so bad that some judges prohibited court attendees from wearing red or blue. Others had extra sets of metal detectors installed directly outside their courtrooms when Crips or Bloods were on trial. During one such proceeding, a city police detective I knew—and whom I frequently used as a source—was on hand to testify for the prosecution. He pulled me aside outside the courtroom one day and told me about a Bloods–Crips conflict even bloodier than the ones I’d been covering.

“It’s real bad,” he said.

“Where is it?” I asked. “The Bronx? Brooklyn?”

“Long Island,” he said. “They’re fighting over a piece of territory

called the Triangle.” “Bodies?”

“Oh yeah. Bodies, Crack. Guns. All in the ’burbs.”

The next day, I made the twenty-two-mile drive from the Bronx to the Village of Hempstead, following a map the detective had drawn for me.The well-manicured lawns and upscale shopping centers dotting most of Long Island’s streets quickly gave way to run-down buildings and abandoned homes in Hempstead. Parts of the village remained relatively safe, their streets lined with pharmacies and sandwich shops. But a large swath of it embodied the very picture of urban blight, its streets dirty and decrepit, its decayed housing stock more reminiscent of the South Bronx than the rest of Long Island.

Even so, when I arrived in the Triangle, I thought I’d taken a wrong turn. The neighborhood had the look and feel of a drug market—narrow roads, long-abandoned houses, drug baggies and vials strewn about—yet it was empty, not a single corner boy in sight. There were two schools located almost directly next door, as well as a playground. Surely Long Island crack dealers wouldn’t be so brazen as to sling in sight of kids walk- ing to class or children at play.
I made a U-turn with the intention of circling back onto the main road. It was there, at the corner of Linden Avenue and Linden Place, that the Hempstead Crips appeared. Three of them strode out into the middle of the street, gesturing for me to roll down my window. They knocked on the hood of my car, as if in greeting.

“What you need?” one of the Crips said. “Yayo? Rock? Some weed? Come on, yo, ain’t got all day.”

I looked past the Crips who’d come out to serve me. Five or six of their brethren shifted about on a Linden Place stoop, watching me closely, seemingly ready to join their homies in the street if anything went awry. I told the touts I wasn’t looking to cop.

“I’m a journalist writing a story about the Linden Triangle,” I said. “Is it all right if I hang out with you guys for a little while?”

Before I could say another word, they were shouting curses at me. One accused me of being an undercover narcotics cop. Another leaned in through my open passenger window and said “Nigga, you best leave right now.”

I drove off to the sound of them jeering. In my rearview mirror, they saluted me with middle fingers, hawked loogies in my direction, and grabbed their crotches. All in all, I thought, my introduction could have gone a lot worse.

“Shit, you’re lucky they didn’t shoot your white ass,” my detective source said when I told him about the encounter. “Maybe you need a different approach.”

As winter wore on, other stories took precedence. Fresh murders needed covering in the Bronx each day. So did trials of the accused. I put the Triangle story on the back burner, promising I’d come back to it during a lull on my beat. Not long after, I got a call from the managing editor of Newsday, Long Island’s Pulitzer Prize–winning daily newspaper, offering me a job covering criminal justice. I’d applied months earlier, fascinated by the island’s salacious murders, drug epidemics, and gang problems. Hungry to explore the seedy underbelly of suburbia, I accepted the position, and immediately delved back into the Triangle story.

I started by attending a Hempstead community meeting, organized by Triangle residents concerned about the recent gang violence. They complained of drug dealers swarming their cars and making aggressive sales pitches, just as the Crips corner boys had done to me weeks earlier. The residents said gunfire was so common in their neighborhood they didn’t let their children outside after dark. Some even hid their kids in the bathtub when bullets started flying. And they always kept their windows closed, lest a stray slug find its way inside amid a Bloods–Crips gun battle.

“I’ve been trying to get through to these young men for a long time,” Male Timmons, the leader of a local neighborhood association, told me after the meeting. He’d been shot while trying to make peace between the gangs, but that hadn’t deterred him. “We have something new going on now. We’re doing prayer marches. Why don’t you come out and see for yourself?”

He gave me the number of the man in charge of the marches, Reverend Kirk Lyons, a fifty-one-year-old Hempstead native who ran a ministry with locations in Newark, New Jersey, and Brooklyn, New York. Some of Lyons’s old friends had called to alert him to the Bloods–Crips gang war ravaging his hometown. He’d agreed to come home to try and calm the violence. When I called him, he said I was welcome to march with his men, with one caveat: I ought to be ready for anything.

“We march at midnight,” he said. “One side of the neighborhood is Crips. The other’s Bloods. We’re walking through both.”

I joined the marchers that Friday and many others, rain or shine, walking through Long Island’s largest, most dangerous open-air drug market. I observed their prayer circles, and sometimes participated in them, holding hands with the gang members, addicts, and prostitutes they prayed with. One night, I held the hand of a young Crips associate, just a child, his palm small and sweaty. He wore expensive Nike high-tops and a kid’s-size basketball jersey. I wondered how he’d ended up working a drug corner.

“Keep praying for me,” he told me as I walked off. I told him I would. A few weeks later, I heard he’d been wounded in a gang shooting in Brooklyn. A bullet fragment had penetrated his eye, blinding him. On another march, I’d met a pretty young woman trying to beat heroin and cocaine addictions. At her request, I’d given her the number of a treatment hotline. She thanked me with tears in her yes, gave me a hug. Two weeks later, she died of an overdose.
Every week brought more heartbreak: murders of Bloods and Crips, wounded children left handicapped, addicts lost to the needle or pipe. But the marchers never relented.They came to walk and pray every week. Gradually, both gangs came to trust them. In time, they came to trust me, too.
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