Schools, their playgrounds, and after-hours community centers where kids could play sports and do activities, always seemed to be a flashpoint for gang activity. In some spots of NYC, such as Bedford-Stuyvesant (especially in the mid 1950s), facilities for youth to stay preoccupied with in innocent and fun activity, were sometimes few and far between. So often the rare resources were fought over by gangs.
Such a case was PS 59 in the Sumner Projects. PS 59 was a recreation center that was “owned” by the Buccaneers. It was a great center where youth could hang out, participate in events, bus trips and enjoy dances. Some of the Buccaneers played crap games behind the school. The brother club of the Buccaneers were the Tiny Tims; they were so close that most outsiders looked at the Tiny Tims as Buccaneers. Up to a certain point – before Keno became President of the Buccaneers – the Stompers, Medallion Lords and Imperial Lords also hung out at PS 59. One gang, however, did not hang out at PS 59. They were the Marcy Chaplains, on-again, off-again enemies of the Buccaneers. The Marcy Chaplains had no reason to go to PS 59, they had their own center in their own turf, the Marcy Houses.
Although fighting between the Buccaneers and Marcy Chaplains had gone on for years with stabbings and shootings, nobody had yet been killed up to the end of 1959. A lot of the members from both gangs attended the same schools and classes. Throw into the mix other groups such as the Ellery Bops, Latin Kings, Young Demons, Jesters and Black Diamonds, and you have a thick soup of gangs, some who were loosely allied and who sometimes fought each other. However, one thing was for certain and that was basically everybody was an enemy of the Marcy Chaplains. Click here for an overview of the gangs in the Sumner and Marcy Houses during this time.
This page will highlight an example of one of those times when things between the Marcy Chaplains and Buccaneers nearly turned into murder.
At some point in February 1960 – the exact date isn’t known – Marvin Grinnage, a member of the Buccaneers and some of his friends attended a party on Stockton Street, a tiny street that was exactly in between the Marcy and Sumner Projects, the respective turfs of the Marcy Chaplains and Buccaneers. You would think because of it’s location it would be sort of a no-man’s land. But the Buccaneers attending this party didn’t sit well with Willie Sykes, the supposed “President” at the time of the Marcy Chaplains. Sykes, not liking the Buccaneers being at the party, kicked the Buccaneers out, warning Grinnage darkly to “Keep out of my way, or you’ll get in trouble.”
Roughly a month later after this minor altercation, Willie Sykes was at the community center at PS 59. He was definitely out of his home turf and was taking a big risk by being in Buccaneer territory. But he seemed to have a lot of bravado, because when he saw Grinnage there, he said, “Grinnage, you’re a wise guy and I’m going to get you.” Grinnage was on home turf so he retorted back, “You want a fair one?”
A fair one was gang terminology for just two fighters to go at each other. People could watch, but it was understood that it would just be the two of them fighting. That way it prevented a full-scale rumble, and it also showed everyone who was the premier fighter, there is something about a one-on-one where the champion could truly shine. Sykes liked the idea and the two boys prepared for battle, while a group of onlookers surrounded them.
A few punches were landed, when all of a sudden Sykes pulled a knife. Perhaps he was losing the fight, or maybe he intended to pull the knife regardless. Now things were unfair and Grinnage was at a distinct disadvantage. Someone – Grinnage never said who – slipped put a gun in his hands to even the odds out. It was a “Young America” .32 caliber revolver, which would have looked something just like in the image below.
Without thinking about what he was doing, Grinnage grabbed the gun, pointed it at Sykes, and promptly shot him in the head. By freak chance the bullet didn’t hit Sykes; somehow it only glanced off the left side of his head. How this happened will probably never be known because Grinnage shot from point-blank range. No sooner had Grinnage shot Sykes, when he turned on his heels, fleeing the scene. He ditched the revolver to the sidewalk where it was picked up by Alonzo Grey who was then later arrested by the police. At any rate, although Sykes narrowly escaped death, he was taken to Cumberland Hospital where he suffered from shock and needed six stitches to close the wound.
According to Grinnage he felt terrible about the situation, fearing that he may have killed Sykes. With the help of Eddie Allen, a Youth Board supervisor who worked with gangs in the area, he turned himself into the police at the 90th precinct. He admitted to his crime and was sentenced for assault and carrying a dangerous weapon. Grinnage’s term was 3.5 to 5 years.
The tension between the Marcy Chaplains and Buccaneers continued. Later that year, six months almost to the day from this assault, Richie Childs aka “Jewboy,” a member of the Buccaneers was beat to death with baseball bats in Marcy park by several Marcy Chaplains including William Henderson (“Spotty”), Isiah Whaley (“Ikie”), Mackey Murray, James Best and Milton Saunders.