Many times in youth gang warfare, innocent people were caught up in the fights between gangs, not only as innocent bystanders caught between the fire, but also when they were mistaken for actual gang members. This happened all too often and a perfect example can be found in the gang wars between the white Halsey Bops from Bushwick and the black Dekalb Chaplains from Beford-Stuyvesant (for basic information on these two gangs, click here to learn more) in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
From a book called God’s Work by Abe Usera, there is an excerpt of what happened to a young boy who was caught in Halsey Bops turf:
“There was a time when I observed a black boy walking home from Halsey Jr. High School through our neighborhood, when a few white boys had approached him. Because there was a war between the Halsey Street Bops and the Jefferson Stumpers, the Halsey Street Bops members wanted to hurt the black boy. The black boy was from the Jefferson Street Stumpers neighborhood. I approached the white gang members and pleaded to them not to hurt the black boy. They knew me because we live in the same neighborhood. I finally got them from hurting the small boy. The boy looked at me with tearing eyes of thankfulness and quickly left the area.”
In this case the victim escaped unscathed from a potential beating (or worse), but in the following information with roles reversed, some DeKalb Chaplains got revenge on the Halsey Bops, but appear to get the wrong guy.
May 18, 1960 was a spring evening that one policeman later said was “a rather hectic night at the 81st Precinct.” It all started around 9:00 p.m. when a group of DeKalb Chaplains decided to go on a raiding party against either the Ellery Bops or Halsey Bops in Bushwick. One of their members was beaten up that afternoon and this group of Chaplains was going to avenge the beating. David McRae and Harold Grant were asked by Richard Gadson and James Cook (both of whom were known to the court system for gang association) to join the war expedition.
McRae who had a involved gang history himself as former President of the Chaplains and had a history of arrests for disorderly conduct, attempted assault, congregating for gang assault, pocketbook snatch and stabbing a 12-year-old with a knife, felt he had to go because he was looked upon as a “wheel” in the neighborhood. He also didn’t want the guys to think he was chickening out.
Harold Grant, an unstable youth who could sometimes be seen riding through the neighborhood on his bike in a semi-drunken condition, also agreed to go because he also didn’t want to be considered a chicken.
Around 9:00 p.m. on the evening of May 18, 1960, McRae, Grant, Cook, Gadson and other unnamed youths totaling about 10-12, began their journey to Halsey Bop territory. On the way they picked up Hurdis Smith, an associate of theirs who was on a bicycle working his shift for Western Union. Smith, who did not have a record, but was expelled from school, joined the boys and allowed Grant to use the bike who acted as a scout, conducting reconnaissance, riding ahead of the pack of boys looking for a victim.
About this time the gang bumped into a boy known as “Joe Country” who suggested they take along a .22 caliber Harrington & Richardson revolver which was property of the gang and hidden in a hole on the roof of 967 Jefferson Avenue.
Prowling along Howard and Saratoga Avenues, looking for Halsey Bops, Grant took a pot shot in the air, flexing his muscles (later he said that he was a “small man and when he has a gun in his hand, he feels like a big man”). They came across some youths sitting on a stoop on Hancock Street, at which point Grant threatened them with the revolver. However, Smith came to their rescue and told Grant to back off as he knew them.
The gang continued their search for Halsey Bops, and finally after walking through the area for about half an hour, they came across three white boys walking down Evergreen Avenue in Bushwick. With Grant on the bike ahead of the rest of the boys and armed with the revolver, he rode towards his prey. The three boys spotted Grant and feeling threatened, dashed through an iron gate of 552 Evergreen Avenue into the home for safety. Grant took five shots at the fleeing boys, with one of the bullets hitting Christopher Sanfillipo in the buttocks.
Ducking into a cellar, Christopher didn’t even know he had been hit with the bullet until after he waited for 10 minutes he stood up to wipe the dust from the seat of his pants and saw blood on his hand.
After some sleuthing from detectives at the 81st Precinct, the DeKalb Chaplains were found and arrested for assault. None of the Chaplains even knew who the victims were, but didn’t want to leave empty-handed. When Grant was asked by the arresting officer why he shot at the three boys, he said, “if you were younger you would understand. I had no real reason for it.”
In regards to the quote from the policeman from the 81st Precinct about May 18 being a hectic night, the gun activity did not end there. According to detectives, the following events, beginning with the shooting of Christopher Sanfillipo occurred:
After Christopher was wounded at 9:30 p.m, Grant gave the gun back to McRae, who then put it back in it’s hiding spot on the roof. “Big Country” (the one who urged the boys in the first place to take the gun on their quest for Halsey Bops), then took the gun from the roof at 9:40 p.m. and pointed it at two boys, asking them if they “wanted trouble.” Immediately after this, Sherman Small took the weapon and fired four times at two youths hanging in front of a building on Gates Avenue at 10:00 p.m., missing his targets and then putting the gun back on the roof. Around 11:00 p.m. McRae went back to the roof, taking the revolver with him and some friends to Greenwich Village where they stayed out late drinking. Around 4:00 a.m. while they were on their way back to Bushwick, McRae accidentally shot one of his friends in the ankle after some horseplay at a subway station. While his friend went to the hospital (and there caught the attention of the police), McRae put the gun back in its hiding spot. A short time after this, another Chaplain took the gun back from the roof for an unknown purpose (target practice early in the morning?) and when he finished with the gun, gave it to McRae’s sister to hold because at this time the police were swarming all over the roof looking for the weapon.
And so you can see this was a rather involved evening with lots of twists and turns, and this doesn’t even begin to tackle the backgrounds of each of the people involved, which would take another few pages of analysis. Multiply this by hundreds of incidents from pocket book snatchings to murder, and you can see there is a large amount of information on the boys who made up these gangs and the gangs themselves.