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Long Island's Triangle Gang War Of 2012

The Linden Triangle is an intersection of streets in Hempstead on Long Island.  Nearby is a park; there's a charter school, a Mercedes Benz dealership.  Not really surprising for your average Long Island suburban neighborhood.  But the Linden Triangle is not average.  Theses streets form a hub for drug sales, shoot-outs, and a deadly gang war.  JournalistKevin Deutsch spent quite a bit of time with the people who live amid the violence  that plagues the Triangle.  He writes about the gangs, the community, and the police in his new book.  It's called, The Triangle: A Year On The Ground With New York's Bloods and Crips.

Deutsch first learned about the gangs in the Linden Triangle while covering the courts in the Bronx for The New York Daily News.  He says the Bronx is a hub for Bloods - Crips violence.  A detective source Deutsch had worked with told him about a gang war that was happening in The Triangle. 

"I didn't know where that was.  I said, 'is this in the Bronx, in Brooklyn, in Manhattan?'  He said, 'no it's in suburbia. It's in Long Island.'"

Deutsch went out to the Triangle in 2012.  He spent a year on the ground with the gangs, with clergymen, with addicts and residents.  During this period the violence escalated between the Bloods and Crips as they battled over  control of  this valuable drug territory.  Deutsch says the conflict led to dozens of people being shot. 

"This is a small village of only 55,000 people.  40 people were shot. A number of them were killed.  Overall, in the broader Bloods - Crips gang conflict that began in Hempstead, as a result of that gang war in the Triangle, 56 people were shot in the region.  At least 10 of those people died, several of them were paralyzed, others were left with life altering injuries.  So, just in this very limited geographic area where the Bloods and Crips were fighting for drug territory, that sort of spiraled out of control and affected areas in New York City, in Westchester, in other parts of Long Island."


Why did the gangs set up business in the Linden Triangle?

Gangs are interested in  moving to the suburbs for the same reason, I think, all suburbanites are.  They're looking for untapped territory.  They're looking for, believe it or not, a sort of peaceful, quieter place to do business.  They view the suburbs as uncharted territory and open territory for drug markets.  They can move in there and find customers who have money.  They can build up a drug business from the ground up.  As cities become more and more crowded, and more and more gangs take up more territory in cities, gangs like the Bloods and Crips are looking for new territory and a lot of times that's in places like Hempstead in the suburbs of Long Island.

You describe what seems like a profitable, well-run business by highly organized groups, the gangs.

That's right.  These gang members and gang leaders view themselves as businessmen.  They don't have the sense of themselves as criminal gangsters who hang out on a corner and sling crack to kids.  They understand what they're doing is illegal but all that means to them, they have to take more precautions.  With the risk associated with drug dealing also comes great rewards, which is why they are willing to take the risk of being killed or going to prison because the profit margins are so great.  One gang member likened the conflict with the Bloods to a corporate battle that you would read about in The Wall Street Journal.  And that's sort of the inflated sense of self that these gang members have where...they're doing something more than just drug dealing their building a gang empire.

Ice is one of the gang members that doesn't survive the violence of 2012. He has a business degree and there's a tug of war in his mind as to which way he should go.

They (gang members) view themselves as being essentially locked out of the legitimate American economy. And as a result they've created their own social ecosystem and their own economy. And that's a drug economy, a crack economy, a marijuana economy. - Kevin Deutsch

He was one of the most interesting people who I met during my reporting.  He straddled the borderline between two worlds: the world of the legitimate American economy and the world of the illegal drug economy.  And he could have gone either way.  He could have pursed his career in accounting and finance or he could have remained as a senior gang leader and perhaps made much more money and had much higher status within the world of the gangs. Throughout the time I spent with him, he was conflicted and torn between going which way.  He knew that the right thing to do was to go legit but the psychological grip and pull of gang life was so strong for him to have walked away from that life would have required to turn his back on all his friends, his deputies, the younger gang members who looked up to him.  As much as he might have wanted to go legit, he found such a great sense of place as a leader of men in the drug markets that it was hard for him to fully give himself over to the legitimate economy.  And he does end up being killed as a result of this conflict.  His relatives were heart broken because they were so close to getting him out of that life.  They believed that he was on his way from escaping gang life but before he could do that he was killed. 

Tom has been with WSHU since 1987, after spending 15 years at college and commercial radio and television stations. He became Program Director in 1999, and has been local host of NPR’s Morning Edition since 2000.
Ann is an editor and senior content producer with WSHU, including the founding producer of the weekly talk show, The Full Story.