Gangbusters: Law Enforcement's Dubious Means to Police Public Housing Residents

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Over the course of his month-and-a-half-long trial, court officers would lead out a handcuffed Taylonn Murphy Jr., who’d quickly smile at his father, Taylonn Murphy Sr., and mother, Tephanie Holston. If they were late, the 20-year-old would look over his shoulder at the sound of courtroom doors opening and closing, searching for them. But those doors won’t be opening anymore for Taylonn’s family: A Manhattan jury recently convicted Taylonn for the killing of Walter Sumter just after Christmas 2011. His case has shed some light on the strategies, both in and out of court, of law enforcement officials focused on young men in public housing.

Taylonn’s trial stemmed from a 2014 gang raid in West Harlem, then the biggest raid in New York City’s history.

Taylonn’s trial stemmed from a 2014 gang raid in West Harlem, then the biggest raid in New York City’s history. It took on the feel of a mafia trial. Posters littered with young Black and Brown faces stared at a mixed jury every morning. Launched primarily in Harlem’s Grant and Manhattanville public housing developments, the 2014 sweep was the culmination of Operation Crew Cut, a policing strategy said to target violent “crews,” a looser grouping often conflated with gangs. Most of the 103 indictments from the raid never went to trial. Ninety-three young men pled guilty, seeking to avoid extraordinary jail sentences. Much of that had to do with the conspiracy charges leveled against them –things they may not have done themselves.

Taylonn Murphy Sr. was always sharply dressed for court. He’d listen intently to every word uttered by the prosecutors, Andrew Warshawer and Jon Veiga, and the court’s extroverted judge, Edward McLaughlin. The elder Taylonn has, for years, worked to combat street violence and mass incarceration. His son, also known as “Bam,” was now at the center of it all, facing life in prison. He was accused of pulling the trigger of the gun that killed Sumter and also of…

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