An Arts and Culture Center, an H&R Block, a Window and Glass store, and a grim Deli line the four corners of this busy intersection. Lexington Avenue and 106th Street is the most recent crime scene in the quickly-expanding list of bloodied locations throughout El Barrio. Santos Vilella, owner of the Central Park Studios at Lex, was one block away when violence erupted.
“I heard two gunshots, and then I heard the running. All of a sudden we are seeing helicopters, were seeing cops. I think they shot two people, says Vilella.
These mean streets have become meaner with the growing rivalry between the gangs located in two housing projects on either side of Lexington Avenue: Washington Houses, which are home to the Broad Day Shooters, and Carver Houses, where the 6th Street Network gang members reside. The projects are separated by the only subway line in the East Side.
“The train is entirely in the middle, on Lexington. Theres only one train. Carver and Washington have to meet to go to the train,” says Molinary.
Technically, both gangs are affiliated with the infamous Bloods, which is known for drug trade, but George Sarkissian, head of the local Community Board, says that in Spanish Harlem, it’s all about territory now.
“They’re not gangs in your historical sense. They dont have much to do with drugs, its all about association,” explains Sarkissian.
Sarkissian says the violence has recently spread beyond the confines of these two projects. “Now you have Taft houses up against Johnson houses, you have Lincoln and Wagner, you have all these various public housing projects with their groups of kids that are kinda fighting each other over territory. Over the past few weeks its really gotten to peak mode,” states Sarkissian.
“Not only that, it has also escalated,” warns Molinary. “They’re just so willing to take it to the next step, everybody is just willing to go one above the next. So if I bring my fist, then the next guy brings a knife, then the next guy brings a gun.”
Sarkissian says at least 12 people associated with the Washington and Carver rivalry were killed over the summer, but an in-depth online search brought up few results on recent gang violence in Spanish Harlem. Molinary has a theory.
“People who are wounded, people that have died, you know, there is no coverage. Instead of going on the news 30 times in two months when they’re trying to build these lovely condos up here, I don’t think they would move here to be honest with you,” says Molinary.
The 23rd Precinct police says that they’ve recently added a unit of officers to patrol these high crime places every night from 6 PM to 2 AM in response to increasing gang activity. But Sarkissian is skeptical.
“Over the weekend, we heard from the police that there were 300 kids amassed at Taft houses looking for people to beat up. I mean 300 kids! An entire Precinct cant respond to that. Its pretty much an army,” cautions Sarkissian.
One afternoon, I approached a group of three men in their early twenties who were standing in the Washington houses playground. They had tattoos on their arms and faces, and one of them was wearing a red shirt, the official color of the Bloods. They told me to turn off my tape recorder. They said that the spot where we were standing was directly in the line of fire and that outsiders weren’t welcome. The suspicious and hostile looks that followed me for a few blocks after I left Washington confirmed this.
The two 15-year-old victims of the 106th Street shooting are still recovering from the gunshot wounds. The Precinct urges caution when walking around Spanish Harlem, because in this part of town, public space seems to be privately owned.