* Please see note at bottom of page
Here is an interesting story related by Harrison Salisbury, a writer for the Times during the 1950s, who documented what happened when a youth gang from Manhattan took on the Mafia in a fight over turf. This is the only time I ever heard of a youth gang actively working against the Mafia.
…Near 125th Street there was an active bopping gang which went under the name of the Young Turks. The Turks were turbulent youngsters, constantly fighting a neighboring gang called the Dark Angels.
There was a vacant building in the block where the Turks had their hangout. One afternoon a moving van pulled up, unloaded filing cases, desks, office equipment under the watchful eyes of several tan-suited, shoulder-padded, hip-bulging, sharp-eyed men. A couple of days later one of the tan-suited men sought out Sonny, the leader of the Turks.
“Get your kids off this block,” the sharp-eyed man said. “We don’ want no trouble around here. No cops, no fights. Cool it – get what I mean?”
“Who you talking for?” Sonny asked.
“No damn questions,” the sharp-eyed man said. “You damn well know who runs things around here. Now get scarce. And remember. We don’ want no cops messin’ round this block. And we don’ want no reason for no cops messin’ around.”
Sonny reported his conversation to his pals.
“Thinks he’s a big shot,” Sonny said. “Just because he’s a Syndicate man. Thinks he can come on our turf and order us around. Wise guy.”
Street warfare went on. The Turks and the Angels paid no attention to the warning. A night or two later the block was choked with squad cars, summoned to halt a rumble. The Syndicate got mad. It was a big investment to protect and it didn’t want street kids jeopardizing that investment. The next night when the kids congregated on the street a couple of the sharp-eyed, tan-suited young men sauntered out, drew their pistols and fired a fusillade or two over the heads of the kids. The kids ran – but not far.
The following night they threw rocks through the windows of the Syndicate building. The night after they did the same thing.
A week later a Youth Board supervisor had a strange visitor. He was an indignant representative of the Syndicate.
“Look, man,” the Syndicate representative said, “you gotta do something about those kids in the block off 125th Street. They got no sense, these kids. They smash up the street every night. Cops come down there two, three times an evening. How long you think we can operate in a place like that? We’re businessmen. We don’t want no trouble. You gotta get those kids of our back. They’re crazy. They don’t care what they do.”
The Youth Board worker conveyed the Syndicate message to Sonny.
“Tell ‘em to shove it,” Sonny said. “What’s a-matter with those guys? We’re just kids. What they mean shooting at us? Ain’t no big people going to shoot at us and get away with it. We weren’t doing them no harm. That’s our turf. It don’t belong to no Syndicate or nobody but us. They got no right to move in on us. We’re just kids. They don’t like it – they can punk out.”
Which is what the Syndicate did. Despairing of ever calling it cool with their adolescent antagonists the Syndicate ordered in the moving van – and punked out.
* A reader emailed me the other day asking some questions about this quote that Salisbury provided in his book. Something didn’t seem right about it to him. He has known and been around wiseguys all his life, and the actions of men in this quote doesn’t connect with what he knows the Mafia to be like. Once an operation is set up almost nothing can stop them, much less some bricks through the window. Anyone who interferes is taken care of and the operation continues.
I asked him if the Mafia was ever referred to as the Syndicate because I assumed that meant the Mob. His reply was that the Mafia has been called many things in New York City – including the Syndicate. However, at the time period this took place, around 1957-1958, Black organized crime figures who controlled the drugs and numbers racket in Harlem were called the Syndicate. Although the Mafia oversaw Harlem going back to the days of Dutch Schultz, the day-to-day running was controlled entirely by the Blacks.
With this in mind, this story sounds like it could very well refer to the Young Turks taking on not the Mafia but the Syndicate, Black organized crime running the drugs and numbers in Harlem.