NYC's new gang culture: 'The body count is never enough'

Police say they're making progress in reducing major felony crimes, but one area has them deeply concerned – the growing rise in youth violence, especially gang-related shootings. 

FOX 5 New York had exclusive access embedded with New York Police Department special units for a major gang takedown. It is clear today's gang problem is very different from the gang culture of decades past, and so is the law-enforcement approach.

"A significant number of incidents involving our people center on gangs and street crews," NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said. 

We got an exclusive inside look at how the NYPD is focusing on the most violent offenders, and not doing the wide net sweeps of the past where they sometimes snared innocent neighbors. In Queens, it was two rival gangs. More than 30 alleged members most between 18 and 22 years old, and some juveniles. All, police say, with previous criminal justice involvement, all charged with gang conspiracy in two murders and multiple shootings using dozens of guns.


Inside NYPD's dismantling and takedown of 2 violent Queens gangs

Ride along with police in Queens as they conduct what could be the largest gang takedown in the borough's history – an investigation dating back to the 2019 murder of an innocent 14-year-old.

"It's pretty much ‘shoot on site’ when they see the opposition, and a lot of times innocent people are caught in the middle of it," NYPD Gun Violence Suppression Division case supervisor Sgt. Jeffrey Liu said.

Attorney Dante Mills added, "It's just young kids doing whatever they want. Any idea they come up with, they get other people on board and just do random crazy thing. That's not how it was before; there was a hierarchy. It was some stability, and I think it kept things more in line."

Experts say easy access to cheap guns has escalated the violence.  

"In the 90s, there were rules," former NYPD lieutenant and current John Jay College professor Ralph Cilento told FOX 5. "You had to ask permission before you killed somebody. And now, the body count is never enough. When you went through a rival gang member's neighborhood, he used to get beat up. Now you get shot and killed."

In fact, my photographer and I had to put on bulletproof vests for our report due to the potential for danger. 

The root of the problem runs deep, according to A.T. Mitchell, the founder of the Man Up organization and the man appointed New York City gun czar by Mayor Eric Adams. 

"It's a reflection of what's going on in our communities, where our neighborhoods in our society failed our young people, and let them out to do whatever they want to do and commit these vicious crimes," said Mitchell. "And the easy access to social media has helped heighten it."

Police say the gang rivalry is heated to a boiling point on live social media taunts, and drill music videos where gang members allegedly bragged about the locations of the shootings and calibers of guns used in actual incidents. 

"The drill rap is always a motivator, and the drill rap is so specific that they mention people that have been killed in the past and disrespect those people that have been killed in the past, and it creates a residual effect," said Capt. Ryan Gilles of the NYPD Gun Violence Suppression Division.

Sgt. Calvin Fergus added, "These guys did horrific violence out on the streets of South Jamaica, so it's a victory for the community today that these guys are apprehended."

Bronx and Brooklyn have had similar issues. The city is taking a multi-layered approach to prevent the teams from getting into gangs in the first place. 

I hope you will join us for this important conversation on the next episode of Street Soldiers on Friday, April 21 right after the 10 p.m. news on FOX5NY and live stream everywhere on the free FOX5NY app.