By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
"I knew them since they were teenagers," recalls Savarese, who was in the 79th Precinct anti-crime unit. "They were doing their little bullshit in the street, robbing people, snatching chains, getting their crew together."
Back then, says Savarese, "Chaka was always the nasty one, out-and-out. He was a nasty guy."
The crew gravitated to robbing street-corner drug dealers, and after one rip-off, they came home with vials of chalky white stuff. None of them had ever seen crack cocaine before. Some of them tried smoking it, and they sold the rest.
The boys decided that selling drugs was easier than robbing dealers, so they put up $50 each and had Kusar ask his stepdad if he'd sell them some cocaine. The dutiful stepdad gave them a lecture about the dangers of getting high on your own supply, then sold them a half-ounce for $350.
They found a neighbor who agreed to cook it into crack. Right away, Chaka took a special interest in learning how to boil it down. He would become so proficient that others in the business called him the "mad scientist." His pals rounded up discarded crack vials strewn about the neighborhood; then they stuffed the chopped-up crack into the vials and split up the "jacks." Most went back to their Quincy Street stoops and, within feet of each other, started hawking. "It was gone that night," Lewis later testified, at almost $1,000 profit for the group. "We went to the Chinese restaurant, got a bunch of food, went to Tompkins Park and just started thinking of all the things we were going to buy . . . . Chaka wanted to buy all the jewelry in the world. I wanted clothes and cars. Everybody was just telling what they want out of this."
The next time around, instead of scrounging used vials, they bought supplies at a "paraphernalia store" at Myrtle and Broadway. The shop was stocked with thousands of empty vials with caps of different colors (to ensure your workers were selling your product and not a rival's).
Chaka and Bay started buying two or three ounces of cocaine at a time in Washington Heights. One trip a week turned into two, as the boys' operation spread from Quincy Street around the corner and down Tompkins Avenue. Eventually, they'd consider anything within a five-block radius of their homes their territory.
Soon, the group moved from the risky job of hand-to-hand sales"slinging" vials for as little as $2, $3 or $5 apieceto wholesale. They packaged $125 worth of crack vials in baggies called "bombs" and fronted them to workers who were expected to return $100 and keep $25 for their efforts. Most of their sellers were 13- and 14-year-old kids.
Smarter than the others, Chaka Raysor naturally moved into the role of both the supplier of drugs and keeper of the gang's pooled money.
A sibling rivalry almost undid the Raysor crew before it got started. Chaka's brother Umeme (known as "May-May") had joined up, but in the spring of '86, May-May announced that his brother was stealing them blind. Chaka denied it, but the suspicion was too much, as Bay testified: "We all broke. Split the money and drugs and went our separate ways."
A few months later, however, the group reformed when Raheem was arrested but couldn't come up with the $500 bail. The guys ponied up the bail money, and Chaka convinced them to start pooling money as a rainy-day bail fund. They agreed to give Chaka $100 a week. When the kitty reached about $9,000, Chaka called everyone together and convinced them to use the money to buy cocaine to cook and then sell as crack. They doubled their savings overnight, and the Raysor crew was off and running again.
That year, the organization opened its first successful indoor crack spot. A handyman named "Crackhead Joe" was their Bob Vila, showing them how to fortify an apartment in an abandoned building, cementing over the windows and reinforcing the doors. A bucket half-filled with ammonia served as the commode. Money and crack were exchanged through the doorknob hole.
At first, they let the sellers lock themselves in. But after getting burned a few times by workers who took off with their crack and/or money, the crew decided to lock its workers in. The sellers were mostly homeless men from a nearby shelter, who ostensibly made $50 for a 24-hour shift. But since the crew demanded that shortages had to be repaid double, the homeless men often ended up working for free, after, of course, receiving beatings.
Running "spots," instead of just hustling on the street, required an entirely new business model. The crew needed sellers, "steerers" to bring in customers, lookouts, managers for each place, workers to "re-up" the spot when the crack ran out, and a money collector. Vials had to be filled and bombs packaged up. Coordination was key, and back then there were no cell phones, only pagers. Chaka, still only 17, and May-May, all of 16, supervised "Scotties," their name for the loose-knit crew of assorted crackheads, kids, and killers they assembled.
Opening up new spots was only half the job; keeping rivals out of their pockets was the other. So Chaka devised the "witching hour": late-night shoot-ups of rival drug spots. Gunfire produced by the gang's automatic pistols and machine guns not only scared off customers but attracted police, who closed their rivals down. Authorities say Chaka called this strategy "rock 'em and sock 'em."