The bloody history of a violent Bronx-based gang in the middle of the crack epidemic.
Journalist Green (Murder in the High Himalaya: Loyalty, Tragedy, and Escape from Tibet, 2010) initially focuses on the Bronx during the 1980s and ’90s, digging deep to explain how it became infested with gang-related shootings and a massive wave of deadly drug abuse. The author then moves the narrative into the present, explaining why crime has returned to the Bronx in full force after a temporary reduction. Although the saga is populated by a variety of vivid characters, Green emphasizes the importance of winning the trust of two veteran New York City policemen, John O’Malley and Pete Forcelli, and two lifelong Bronx-based criminals with experience inside the gang known as Sex Money Murder. Though the African-American gangsters, Pipe and Suge, felt no reason to trust Green, a white man with a British accent, they reluctantly met with him at the behest of O’Malley and Forcelli, who had helped bring them to justice and then encouraged them to leave their lives of crime. (Pipe mostly succeeded in becoming a law-abiding citizen, while Suge mostly failed.) The author realized the difficulties inherent in verifying much of what he heard from the gang members, and he labored mightily for confirmation by checking court records, police reports, and photographs as well as by interviewing prosecutors and defense lawyers. The bloodiness of the SMM–related crimes, as well as the lack of contrition from Suge, Pipe, and their cohorts, may turn off some readers, but Green’s insights into a culture unavailable to most readers are invaluable. As the author writes, “just north of my Manhattan apartment was a world as dangerous as any I had experienced as a journalist reporting in the favelas of Brazil, the garrisons of Kingston, Jamaica, or the killing fields of Colombia.”
A disturbing yet necessary, significant book by a journalist willing to place himself in danger.