Pubdate: Wed, 07 Jun 2000
Source: New York Daily News (NY)
Copyright: 2000 Daily News, L.P.
Contact:  450 W. 33rd St., New York, N.Y. 10001
Author: Patrice O'Shaughnessy


Marijuana trade fuels gunplay in the streets

The children of St. Mark's Lutheran School in Bushwick, Brooklyn, play
outside warily now, remembering the morning last month when 15 gunshots
erupted nearby.

Luckily the children were inside at the time, but they were frantic just
the same. "I heard banging out on Bushwick Ave.; I counted but then I lost
count," said Principal Veronica Gordon. "I was scared myself."

It was a throwback to a time when daylight gunfire took a constant, heavy
toll on neighborhoods as crack gangs battled each other.

But according to police, the shots fired on Bushwick and Weirfield St.
represent a new citywide phenomenon: The marijuana trade is fueling the
kind of bloodshed that crack cocaine did a decade ago.

"Marijuana violence is going through the roof," said Garry McCarthy, NYPD
deputy commissioner for operations. "It's a trend we've identified over the
last few months. "We have evidence that what is happening is bad, violent
people who used to be crack dealers are now marijuana dealers."

A first-time offender can receive a minimum of one to three years in prison
for the sale of just one vial of crack, while the sale of 10 pounds of
marijuana can result in probation. That disparity coupled with years of
major crackdowns on heroin and cocaine has driven many dealers into the
equally lucrative marijuana market.

Eight of the 18 shootings this year in Bushwick's 83rd Precinct and four of
the precinct's five homicides occurred in a small area where pot dealers
flourish, police said. Heroin and crack once ruled those same streets.

"The shootings are related to the marijuana trade because they involve
marijuana dealers, sales, or the criminal records of victims show
marijuana," said Capt. Kevin Unick, commander of the 83rd Precinct.

On May 17, cops raided three buildings on Cornelia St., seizing 100 pounds
of marijuana from one of the pastel aluminum-sided houses, and arresting
eight people.

"Up the block there was a homicide; there were two other shootings on that
block. We believe it to be the result of people trying to compete for the
marijuana trade," Unick said.

"Cornelia St. used to have a lot of heroin locations, 35 brand names,"
Unick said. "Now it's pot, vacuum-sealed and packaged."

The same pattern has evolved elsewhere.

In the 47th Precinct in the North Bronx, for example, 32 people have been
shot this year in 25 incidents; 11 of the victims died. At least three of
the homicides and five of the incidents are believed linked to the pot wars.

"There is violence connected to something that was always seen as a
nonviolent drug," said Deputy Inspector Kevin Clark of the 47th Precinct.

Marijuana seizures have doubled. Police have recovered about 8,000 pounds
since Jan. 1, compared with about 4,000 pounds during the same period last

Chief Charles Kammerdener of the NYPD narcotics bureau said nearly a third
of the city's known outdoor drug locations are now devoted to marijuana.
"That is quite high," he said. "And areas that had no marijuana now sell
crack and marijuana.

"People forget narcotics is a business, and there's a lot of money to be
made. That can lead to disputes and violence."

On May 10, Kammerdener said, eight people were arrested on Arden St. in
Inwood, Manhattan. They allegedly controlled the marijuana trade on the
block between Nagle and Sherman Aves.

"Undercovers spent $11,000 there in a few months," Kammerdener said.
"Multiply that by hundreds of people a week going to that one block."

He added: "We are looking at some of the individuals being involved in some
shootings." Special narcotics prosecutor Bridget Brennan said cocaine
organizations are involved in marijuana sales "in bulk, very substantial

Her agency's investigators broke a case in Washington Heights involving
four brothers who sold cocaine and "supermarijuana", grown 
hydroponically.  The organization set aside two apartments for growing 
dope, which allegedly sold for $8,000 a pound.

Authorities are trying to create a strategy to end the violence.

In the 47th Precinct, for the last two months, cops have set up roadblocks
and targeted quality-of-life offenses along White Plains Road, where
dealers ply cocaine and pot.

Avery Mehlman, chief of the Brooklyn District Attorney's narcotics bureau,
said the Cornelia St. defendants' prior arrests for selling pot will be
part of the prosecution.

"We are taking a harder look at the marijuana trade," said Mehlman,
"working with narcotics detectives to crack down, because violence has been
attributed to it."

"After we take someone down, people may try to move in, so my concern is
the followup," said Bushwick's Unick. "We'll keep a uniformed presence."

That is a comfort to Principal Gordon of St. Mark's Lutheran School, where
the fusillade nearby is believed linked to a previous killing over pot.

"The police told us not to use the courtyard for a couple of weeks," she
said as her students did jumping jacks outside. "Now they told us to use
the street again, and they stop by frequently to check up on things.

"You can't keep kids in forever."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart