By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
According to the report, Chaka's father, Herbert, used to take the boys on strolls along the Hudson River, during which Dad would point out the names of flowers and plants and collect wild herbs like sage and oregano to season his vegan meals. Chaka described his father as a "master carpenter" and hard-working jack-of-all-trades who used to make them toys out of wood.
But when Chaka was 7, Herbert was shot and killed by a man who lived in the apartment above them.
After the murder, both Chaka and May-May became "quiet, anxious boys" despite receiving counseling, according to their mother, Maxine Raysor.
Young Chaka, according to the tear-jerking report, had to become a "substitute parent," helping his mother-who at the time was attending college and eventually became a city schoolteacherraise his three siblings. On weekends, the mother and her children were regulars at festivals around the city selling food, banners, and artwork. Chaka admitted to becoming a "momma's boy."
The best thing that happened to Chaka as a kid, according to his mother, was Uhuru Sasa Shule, a private, Afrocentric school that offered the Raysor children both a safe cocoon and accelerated education. But when the school closed because of money problems, Chaka's mother was forced to enroll him in a public middle school. She called that "the beginning of my son's troubles."
His superior education at Uhuru landed Chaka in a gifted class, where he was labeled by the other students as a "nerd." He says that meant "we got beat up and robbed all the time. After a few years of that, you can't take it anymore."
The defense report blames much of Chaka's subsequent misbehavior on his being shot in the eye by his brother when he was 18. Chaka says he forgives the shooter, because he too "was shot when he was a kid and after that was never completely right in his mind." But strangely, every reference to the shooter is either as a "deranged relative" or "crazy relative," never as his brother and fellow gang member.
The shooting left him plagued by debilitating migraine headaches to this day, according to the report, and caused the teenage Chaka to adopt a caustic worldview.
"After I was shot I asked myself, 'Why follow the law if I'll be dead in a few months or a few years?' I couldn't get a decent job, my daughter Monifa needed my help, and I just decided that I had to get money for her as fast as possible before I died. I just surrendered to the drug life; it was a scene that for my whole life had been happening all around me in Bedford-Stuyvesant."
His mother is quoted in the report as saying, "I believe that when Chaka decided to start with the drugs, like so many teenagers he believed that he would die young and he just seemed to lose hope in the American dream."
Investigators say the Raysors' timetable is off by about three years, that Chaka was already deep into the game when he got shot in the eye by his brotherover influence in the drug gang.
That had left Chaka half-blind, but if you believe his tale of his years on the run, the cops were totally blind.
When asked after his arraignment last August where he'd been hiding all those years, Chaka Raysor replied, "Brooklyn." At subsequent court hearings, his lawyer, Larry Sheehan, repeatedly referred to Chaka's time as a fugitive "hiding in plain sight."
The question of where Raysor hid during that decade would be mostly academic if it weren't central to his quest for sympathy. "Chaka Raysor was not some drug lord from Cali or Mazatlan who absconded to Rio de Janiero to live the luxurious life of an exiled crime chieftain," his defense team's report contends. "Instead he lived a vagabond, hobo-like existence during his ten years as a fugitive. Homeless most of the time and frequently without a place to sleep, he often rode the No. 2 subway all night from Flatbush Avenue in lower Brooklyn to 241st Street in the upper Bronx."
The report quotes Raysor as saying, "The subway was my home on many a cold or rainy night. From end to end the No. 2 train took a little more than an hour and a half; it stopped at almost 50 stations. I rode that train back and forth through the night. I didn't get much sleep because I couldn't risk being arrested by subway police. I had to sit up and look alert. But at least the subway kept me from getting pneumonia."
His story: He collected cans to buy food, slept a night or two at various friends' places before moving on, and bunked under the bleachers in Wingate Park during the summers. "My life was filled with high anxiety," he's quoted as saying. "I wore glasses, a hat, a buttoned-up shirt and never wore sneakers. I did this to look older and neater than street people. Each casual walk by a policeman left me shaking. I was always looking over my shoulder."
An aunt's letter in the thick defense packet says, "His 10 years underground was the same as incarcerated, in my opinion. There is no freedom in hiding."