The Gang War That Wasn't

A Far Rockaway murder lit the fuse of a longstanding conflict, but a remarkable peace arrived instead

The men slapped hands and hugged. Then Marcus unleashed a tirade. He cursed those responsible for the near hit-and-run, arms slicing the air to punctuate his fury.

Greer nodded silently. He believed in letting a man vent.

It would be fair to call Greer an expert on project life. For nearly a decade, he'd overseen summer- and after-school programs at projects around Queens. But each neighborhood has its own politics. Neither Greer nor Lance and Todd Feurtado, the brothers who ran Snug, were from Redfern.

“Everybody was thinking it was going to be retaliation,” says Janay Hill.
Willie Davis
“Everybody was thinking it was going to be retaliation,” says Janay Hill.
Lance and Todd Feurtado had street cred: they helped run a drug empire in Jamaica, Queens, in the ’80s and ’90s.
Willie Davis
Lance and Todd Feurtado had street cred: they helped run a drug empire in Jamaica, Queens, in the ’80s and ’90s.

They'd arrived not long after Gittens's body was cold. Before they could defuse the bomb, though, they first had to understand its wiring. So they hit the streets nightly, learning the conflicts, the teams, who was prone to play the hothead, who was likely to become the peacemaker. So far, there had been a few minor confrontations, but no serious violence.

It seemed a scab formed over the wound of Gittens's death. But something about Jones's court appearance that day had ripped it off.

Marcus knew all about Greer and his bosses, the Feurtados. Oldest brother Tony Feurtado had been the top dog of the Seven Crowns gang. Lance and Todd were his capos, with Greer as their right-hand man. He was the enforcer. He collected the bills. He moved the shipments in his trunk.

For much of the '80s, the Feurtados controlled South Jamaica, Queens. They supplied the community with narcotics and Thanksgiving turkeys. By the early '90s, their conglomerate spanned 23 states. The Times called Seven Crowns "a sophisticated, million-dollar-a-week drug enterprise that operated ruthlessly and flagrantly."

Then came the law. After a 1995 bust, Tony got a 22-year sentence. Lance and Todd each spent a decade locked up. Greer did nine years. It was plenty of time to reflect on the poison they had injected into their communities. They committed to repairing the damage they helped cause.

Greer knew he couldn't change Marcus's mind with some "do the right thing" lecture. When somebody tries to run over a five-year-old boy, murder might feel like the right thing to do. Instead, Greer played the self-interest card.

He asked Marcus whether he liked women, because you can't get with women in the joint. You spread your cheeks and cough. Live in a cramped cell. Shower with other men. Eat the same shitty food and wear the same shitty jumpsuit for years on end.

He pressed Marcus about his infant daughter. Was it OK to miss her birthdays? Her graduation? Her wedding?

But Greer's most valuable tool was patience. He just had to keep Marcus talking. He knew that you couldn't talk a man out of his anger. You could only let him burn until his furnace began to cool. And he wouldn't leave until he was sure Marcus would keep the peace.

Marcus's rage would temper. Then reheat. The pattern continued deep into the night. One minute he was gushing about his baby girl. The next, he was promising to make those boys from the front pay.

It wasn't until a little past 2 a.m. that Greer heard what he needed to hear: Marcus told him that everything would be all right. The men hugged and parted ways.

A few weeks later, a car nearly hit the same woman and her five-year-old son as they crossed the street in front of Redfern.

"Yo, it's about to go down," the middle-aged woman told Greer.

It was November, and Greer was making his rounds. The woman had flagged him down. Tensions had been particularly high since the second car incident. She led Greer to the front of Redfern.

Two groups of teenagers squared off. They stood several yards apart, trading smack talk. A couple of guys on each side held baseball bats. Greer knew most of these boys. At least four carried pistols.

Greer stepped between the boys and put his hands up. He pulled aside the leader of each group and walked them to a nearby rec center. The other boys dispersed.

The trio sat at a conference table, where Greer offered a proposal: They would deal with this like men, one on one, face to face.

The boys mugged at each other. One lived in the front. The other lived in the back. Their sides had been feuding as long as they could remember. Neither knew when, how, or why the sections first started beefing. Nobody did.

"It's passed down from generation to generation," says Lance Feurtado. A kid's loyalties came down to where he was raised, a war inherited before he was born. The roots were untraceable. But over the years they had snarled into a thicket of blame. Each side felt slighted by an act of aggression from the other. A guy on one side got jumped. A guy on the other side got shot. And on and on.

"These feuds go back probably as old as I am," says Donovan Richards, the 30-year-old city councilman representing southeast Queens.

Most of the fights Snug encountered started small. Someone flirted with somebody else's girl. Someone talked shit on Facebook. Someone looked the wrong way at somebody else.

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5 comments
rugeirn
rugeirn

Terrific piece. An exemplary demonstration of what leadership can accomplish. And of course the effort lost its funding. Hey, this is America; that's how we do things.

 

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