Harlem’s East River Houses Not Quite the ‘Increasingly Violent’ Place D.A. Calls It


On Friday, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced that his office had indicted 19 people on charges of selling crack cocaine in the East River Houses in East Harlem.

The suspects were alleged affiliates of the East Army gang. Vance’s office has taken great pride in these sorts of gang sweeps. Friday’s press release announcing the East River indictment noted, “This is the 15th indictment by my Office’s Violent Criminal Enterprises Unit in the past five years, involving 17 street gangs.”

One of those 15, in fact, was “the Largest Indicted Gang Case in NYC History,” as the Manhattan D.A.’s office dubbed it. On a single day in early June, 103 suspected members of three separate gangs based in Harlem’s Manhattanville and Grant Houses were indicted on charges that included 19 shootings and two homicides.

Another, in April 2013, charged 62 suspected gang members in East Harlem. Prosecutors tied the defendants to three homicides and more than 30 shootings. All 62 pleaded guilty.

The East Army sweep focused on drugs. According to the indictment, 18 of the defendants sold crack to an undercover officer, and one defendant sold heroin. The drug deals took place all over the housing project, the indictment stated: “playgrounds, a basketball court, stairwells, lobbies, hallways, and elevators.”

But although prosecutors did not tie these defendants to any crimes other than drug dealing, Vance was sure to note how this sweep, like the others, aimed at bringing order and safety to a chaotic pocket of uptown Manhattan.

“Today’s indictment of several individuals affiliated with the East Army gang will help combat the increasingly violent criminal activity occurring at the East River Houses,” Vance said in a statement.

The East River Houses might well be a better place to live in now, in the days and weeks and months following the arrests. But it was certainly not an “increasingly violent” place before the sweep.

The NYPD’s Housing Bureau statistics show that crime has declined at the complex over the past year. The number of reported crimes at the complex from January to October decreased 26 percent from that stretch last year.

By comparison, the crime rate at housing projects city-wide has dipped 5.6 percent.

At East River, robbery, burglary, rape, and grand larceny numbers are all down from last year. There were no homicides at the development last year; this year there has been one.

This has not been a precinct-wide trend. The crime rate at all 13 developments in East Harlem’s 23rd Precinct has dipped 4.9 percent, but six of those developments experienced a rise in reported crimes.

The 23rd Precinct as a whole has seen a sharp increase in shootings and homicides. Last year, through the beginning of October, there were two murders in the precinct, and this year there were four. The number of shooting victims has jumped from eight to 15.

So no question there is increasingly violent criminal activity to address in East Harlem. Just not so much in the East River Houses.