Gangs of New York

Despite strict gun laws and rampant gentrification, gangs continue to thrive throughout the city (even in Chelsea!). Here’s a look at the five biggest threats.

Though NYC’s crime rate is the lowest it’s been in years, gang-motivated incidents have soared 37 percent since 2005—including a recent deadly bout between bangers at high schools in tony Chelsea and Gramercy.

According to the mayor’s Preliminary 2008 Fiscal Report, New York is home to some 17,000 gang members. “For a city as large as New York, it has extremely low numbers,” says Lou Savelli, retired commander of the NYPD Detective Bureau’s Major Case Squad, Gang Division, and editor of Gangs Across America (

But don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet. “No area is immune to gang activity—I don’t care how wealthy your community is,” says Andrew Grascia, president of New York Gang Investigators Association. “When the largest growth of the gang population has been in rural America, to say Brownsville is worse than Manhattan would be inexcusable.”

“New York doesn’t have clearly demarcated gang territories like Chicago and Los Angeles,” adds David Brotherton, chair of the sociology department at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Yet in Staten Island, where authorities have identified more than 1,000 members in roughly 55 different organizations, 600 affiliates live within a short distance of the 120th precinct alone. “The exact number is hard to know because they’re recruiting new members all the time,” says Assistant District Attorney Michael Drews at the Supreme Court Bureau.

Curiously, Manhattan lacks the hardest stats. “The NYPD is extremely secretive and very conscious of its public image,” says Brotherton. “It doesn’t want to give the impression that anything is outside of its control.”


Battles between DDP and Trinitarios in Gramercy, Chelsea, Harlem, Morris Heights and Washington Heights have garnered lots of media attention, despite its relatively low membership. “It reflects the spike in the Dominican population,” says Capital Region Gang Prevention coordinator Ron “Cook” Barrett. “It’s a game of ‘power by numbers.’”


ALKQN’s 5,000 members operate in Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Park Slope, East Harlem and the Bronx. “We felt like a family,” says former member Brandon Cory, who wrote Sunset Park Latin Kings. Grascia calls ALKQN the “the most sophisticated organization out there—the next La Cosa Nostra.” ALKQN has filed for nonprofit status in New York.


MS-13 is a machete-wielding Latin American group that has been assigned its own special task force. “In El Salvador [where it originated], the machete is an acceptable weapon,” says Grascia. The gang has members in Corona, Jamaica, Flushing, and the Rockaways in Queens; the Parkchester and Woodhaven sections of the Bronx; and Sunset Park, Brooklyn.


This mostly Dominican gang has chapters in Bushwick, South Williamsburg, Brownsville and Bed-Stuy. Its members recruit heavily at high schools like DeWitt Clinton, often brandish bats and razors, and can be found trash-talking on YouTube.


There are roughly 10,000 Bloods in the New York City area. “There is no one leader because there are so many different sets,” says Savelli, “but for some reason, they attract the biggest assholes.” Sets include Bushwick’s Pretty Boy Family and Linden Street Bloods; and the Clay Avenue Bloods in the Bronx. More Bloods can be found in Crown Heights, East New York, Mott Haven and the Stapleton section of Staten Island.