Sometimes in my research of youth gangs from the 1950s, I am jolted by the sadness and senselessness of gang warfare.
In August 1959, the Lower East Side – an area rife with gang activity – exploded in violence. The two gangs at the epi-center of this violence were the Sportsmen from Avenue D in the towering Lilian Wald Projects and the Forsyth Street Boys who hung out in Forsyth Park and lived in the tenements surrounding the park. The animosity between the Forsyth Boys and Sportsmen had been festering for weeks and came to a violent head on August 23, 1959. There was a series of stabbings and shootings on that evening, culminating with the shooting death of Theresa Gee, an innocent girl who happened to be hanging out with the Sportsmen on some benches in the Lilian Wald Projects at Avenue D.
Enraged, the Sportsmen took matters into their own hands and made a foray into Forsyth Park where the Forsyth Boys were known to hang out. There they found Julio Rosario, a 14-year old boy who had ties to the gang and depending on who you believed, was either still in the gang or was trying to get out. In the fracas, Julio was beaten and punched by the Sportsmen and then stabbed in the back by “Gypsy” of the Sportsmen. Rosario was taken to the hospital where they had to remove a kidney. Sadly, after a couple of days in the hospital, Julio succumbed to his injuries and died.
In the ensuing trial of “Gypsy,” the following year, the District Attorney called Marciano Rosario – Julio’s father – to the stand to testify how he identified his son’s dead body in the city morgue. The following are parts of the trial transcript of Marciano’s testimony:
Q: Now, on some days later did you go to the City Morgue and there see the body of your son, Julio?
A: On the 26th, more or less from between ten to eleven
Q: And did you tell the Medical Examiner, the doctors, present, that that was the body of your son, Julio?
A: I told them, yes.
Q: Now, I show you an article of clothing —
THE COURT: Members of the Jury: We will recess for a few minutes, step in the juryroom, do not discuss this case.
(Whereupon there was a short recess, after which proceedings were resumed, as follows).
As I was reading this I could only assume that some sort of outburst happened, possibly Marciano was shook up by the emotional proceedings. Trial transcripts can often be dry affairs that don’t do a good job of portraying the humanity and the sadness of the situation, especially when someone has died. That is why witnesses of trial testimony and court cases like journalists from New York City newspapers are so important. Trial witnesses are able to explain what is going on behind the scenes, the demeanor of those testifying and facial expressions of the various participants. After the short recess the questioning continued as follows:
Q: Mr. Rosario, the morning, or this morning, Mr. Keenan and myself showed you a sweater, an undershirt and a shirt, and you looked at them?
A: Yes, I looked at them.
Q: Did you recognize them?
A: I recognized them.
Q: As being what, sir?
A: They are the clothing of Julio Rosario.
Q: Are those the articles that were shown to you this morning by the District Attorney?
A: They are the same, I remember them from the day they removed them from him.
A: They removed them from him at the Gouverneur Hospital.
After the clothing was identified and marked for exhibits and Marciano Rosario concluded his testimony, the defense lawyer for “Gypsy,” Nathan Kestnbaum, made a statement to the court. If it hadn’t been for his statement we probably never would have know about the raw humanity behind Marciano’s testimony:
Mr. Kestnbaum: If the Court please, may the record show that when the last witness was on the stand he broke down weeping, and that, therefore, Your Honor called a recess, but after he resumed the stand and finished his testimony and started weeping again, and as he passed the table at which the stenographer is seated, where the apparel of his late son was placed, he bent over weeping hysterically and started to kiss those garments. I submit that while there may not be any fault on the part of the prosecutor, these actions on his part were inflammatory and highly prejudicial to the defendant. They form no proper part of the evidence in this case and, accordingly the defendant applies for a mistrial.
The Judge denied the mistrial.
It is moments like this that I come across in my research that really brings to life the tragedy and devastation that some of these gang fights were responsible for.