Tuesday, February 14, 2012


This is happening in the state with the strictest gun regulations in the country. The government may keep law abiding citizens from having guns, but it can’t keep criminals from getting them.

By Michael Wilson

The New York Times
February 10, 2012

Shanell Crute and her boyfriend were walking toward East 163rd Street in the Bronx to buy marijuana that night. With two blocks to go, they stopped when a group of five guys called out to her. The men had been drinking and smoking.

Ms. Crute’s nickname was Sweetz because she was quite friendly, but that night, Sept. 30, 2010, she gave as good as she got for the last minutes of her 26-year-long life.

“She says, ‘I might know these guys,’ ” said Lt. James Ruane of the 44th Precinct detective squad. “She gets into a bit of an argument with them when she figures out she doesn’t know these guys. Somebody said, ‘Get the Waka Flocka.’ ”

Two men broke off, crossed East 161st Street, entered the lobby of an apartment building, approached the bank of 207 mailboxes and opened one.

Waka Flocka is the name of a rapper. But to these men, the phrase described something else.

The community gun.

Hidden and shared by a small group of people who use them when needed, and are always sure to return them, such guns appear to be rising in number in New York, according to the police. It is unclear why. The economy? Times are tough — not everyone can afford a gun. “The gangs are younger, and their resources are less,” said Ed Talty, an assistant district attorney in the Bronx.

Or perhaps it’s not that there are more communal guns, but rather, that they are easier to identify through forensic science.

“We get a lot more ballistic matches than we ever have before,” Lieutenant Ruane said. “It’s amazing. You go, how the hell did that match up to that shooting? It’s a different command, a different borough, Brooklyn or something.”

The two men who opened the Bronx mailbox may have been momentarily surprised by what they found inside — nothing. But they simply went to another hiding spot in the building, in a bag under the stairs, the police said. The building was routinely referred to as “Vietnam,” a name coined during more violent times in the 1980s.

There was the gun.

The two men emerged from the apartments on East 161st Street, and one of them, Solomon Corbett, 23, raised the gun and ended the argument with Ms. Crute by shooting her in the head and chest, the police said. He later told the police that he felt threatened by her boyfriend and intended to shoot him, but missed. That he hit her nine times seems to have weakened his case for self-defense.

Mr. Corbett has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. The gun was never found. It may have been thrown away, or it may be stashed somewhere else, because when it comes to community guns, hiding holes abound.

“Wheel wells,” Mr. Talty said. “The bottom of a light pole.”

“Garbage pails are a big one,” said Capt. Richard Dee, with the Police Department’s Gang Division. “A hallway radiator.”

“Behind some bushes or under a building,” said State Senator Malcolm A. Smith, who has visited the scenes of shootings in his Queens district that were linked to community guns. “Somewhere where you can essentially borrow it for an hour if you need to use it.”

The police believe that a community gun is now in play in a series of gang-related shootings in East New York, Brooklyn, between the Rock Starz and their colorfully named rivals, the Very Crispy Gangsters.

Sharing guns predates the Wild West, but the sophistication of maintaining today’s community gun can be striking.

“You call it a community gun, so that name has to be able to market itself,” Senator Smith said. “You have a business model behind this concept, a schedule, which is a shame. If they used that intellect for something positive, who knows how successful that person could be?”

Sometimes the hiding place is human. “One guy will hold the gun down,” Captain Dee said. “They call him the ‘holster.’ Often, it’s a female. Someone who is above suspicion.”

This was the case, prosecutors said, in the 2011 arrests of several members of the 137th Street Crew, which sold crack in Harlem. One defendant, Afrika Owes, was the girlfriend of the gang’s leader, Jaquan Layne, and she visited him in jail at Rikers Island. Their conversations were recorded. They referred to times when Ms. Owes “was carrying the big old nine,” according to the indictment brought by the Manhattan district attorney. The 9-millimeter pistol “was part of defendant Africa Owes’s life,” the indictment states.

She told her boyfriend it was heavy.

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