What Happened After The Bronx 120 Raid

(THE INTERCEPT) , April 26, 2019

KRAIG LEWIS WAS living in Connecticut and was nine credits away from his MBA when the neighborhood he had spent his life trying to get away from came back to haunt him. Growing up in a mostly poor and at times violent section of the Bronx, Lewis had seen his share of illegal activity. Some of those behind the criminality — mostly low-level drug dealing — were his friends. Lewis hung out with them while also keeping focused on school. Education was his ticket to a different life, his mother always said, and no one could take that away from him.

She was wrong. Three years ago this week, helicopters and armored vehicles swarmed Lewis’s old neighborhood, and SWAT teams and some 700 officers with the NYPD and a host of federal law enforcement agencies knocked down doors at the Eastchester Gardens public housing project and nearby homes. At the same time, 40 miles and a world away, police showed up at the loft apartment Lewis shared with his girlfriend in the seaside city of Bridgeport. Lewis, who had no criminal record and had never been arrested before, was taken away in handcuffs while his 6-year-old son was asleep in his bed. Police drove Lewis to the local station and then back to the Bronx, to a police precinct where he saw dozens of his childhood friends, some for the first time in years.

“It’s not a crime to be a gang member. You shouldn’t be prosecuted simply because of association.”

Lewis was one of 120 people, almost all young black and Latino men, who were indicted following that pre-dawn raid as part of what prosecutors called the “largest gang takedown in New York City history.” According to Preet Bharara, then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the 120 were members of two violent, rival street gangs that had “wreaked havoc” in the neighborhood for years and were responsible for at least eight murders. “These gang members do not belong on our streets,” William Bratton, then NYPD commissioner, said at a press conference the day after the raid. “Instead they belong exactly where they are going, to federal prison, for many years, where they won’t be surrounded by their buddies, they won’t be close to their families, and they’ll no longer be free to terrorize the neighborhoods in which they grew up.”