By Todd Maisel
When the shooting started on the Grand Concourse and 170th Street Monday night, residents of that Mt. Eden community dove for cover, but three young children sitting with their frazzled mother selling tacos hid behind the metal food cart.
Two of the three people shot were innocent bystanders, police say, with a puddle of blood on the steps of the D train egress. The children were uninjured — at least, physically.
After a brief probe by the 44th Precinct detectives, crime scene investigators scooped up spent shells, and MTA employees came with a mop to wash away the blood. But the stains remained for many of those who were nearby, but life had to move on.
Women sold a checker-board emblazoned bread called conchas, a Mexican staple. Dressed in heavy winter clothes, wearing her surgical mask, she also scooped steaming Horchata, a rice-milk combo for hungry commuters coming home from a long day with low pay. These street workers also had to duck for cover during the shooting.
So began a night in the 44th Precinct, in the heart of the Bronx, as officers and detectives looked to keep the peace for neighborhoods torn apart by gang violence, COVID-19 and personal tragedy.
It seems tragedy surrounds the 44th Precinct lately. Not far away from Grand Concourse and East 170th Street, at College Avenue and East 171st Street, two infant boys were found last week dumped like trash in the rear of a building. Stuffed bears and flowers adorned the entrance to the apartment building.
One dried bouquet said, “R.I.P. little angels.” Detectives from 44th Precinct are still looking for the dead children’s mother.
Only a short time after Monday night’s shooting scene was cleaned, cops were running down 169th Street where fellow officers were yelling for a “10-85 forthwith,” an officer in need of immediate assistance. Screaming men and women could be heard echoing off concrete apartment houses.
Cops wound up breaking up a violent dispute between a couple — the man was restrained by a dozen or more cops struggling to handcuff him from doing any harm.
They were surrounded by residents, many with cellphones recording the scene – one spectator yelling at them, “Don’t kill him, don’t kill him.”
The man in custody, considered emotionally disturbed, squirmed while yelling at his partner, “Look what you did, you did this,” as he was carried to a gurney at an EMS ambulance bound for Jacobi Hospital.
As the officers left, some residents yelled slurs at the white officers, some focusing on a female officer. “Yo bitch, I’ll f–k you up. You got some attitude,” one person shouted.
Not five minutes later, cops from the 44th Precinct sped towards East 166th Street and the Concourse where a ShotSpotter activation denoted a shooting.
Witnesses said two young Black men were seen firing a gun in the vicinity, both disappearing onto a two-story staircase — a hallmark of the neighborhood where the movie the “Joker” had been filmed several blocks away, with actor Joaquin Phoenix doing a now famous dance that somehow seemed appropriate in the midst of the real Bronx insanity.
The shooters had gotten away, but 1o minutes later, another ShotSpotter activation, this time at 166th Street and Carroll Avenue. The 44 cops rushed to find shell casings strewn across the street, officers marking them with clear plastic cups or any other debris they could find.
A 24-year-old man apparently walked into nearby Lincoln Hospital with a bullet wound to the ankle. He told investigators, “I saw nothing.”
Teens on CitiBikes and scooters pulled close to the yellow tape, curious about who was shot.
“Anyone see anything?” a cop asks. A beat later, he answers his own question: “Oh wait, you didn’t see anything.”
An elderly man in Muslim dressed in a thobe and a traditional hat, dragged two young children away from the curious site.
“This happens every other day here, when will they learn?” he quipped.
A group of older men stood halfway down the block, a few drinking Hennessey with plastic cups. They knew about the violent Trinatorios, Latin Kings and Crips gangs soaking the streets in blood, but wouldn’t talk about it.
“I don’t know why they have to kill each other — you know it’s mostly the young kids doing this,” said J-Slash, who sipped his drink leaning against a car, parked near a mural of a murdered man. “We have enough trouble with COVID and I know so many people who got sick and died. On top of that, we have stuff like this — kids shooting up the neighborhood – it’s over stupid s–t.”
About 15 minutes later, a call to a local bodega on 170th Street for a fight between a store clerk and a patron resulted in one man suffering a minor bruise. There, the 44 cops surrounded the would-be attacker, who store customers said was intoxicated and slurring his speech as he argued with police.
Another man was yelling at the man and cops, demanding repayment of a debt. Cops cuffed the man.
“They blew this out of proportion,” said a customer as cops hustled the man into a waiting patrol car. “They were arguing and it really wasn’t that big a deal. The cops didn’t have to arrest the guy.”
Twenty minutes later, cops from neighboring 42nd Precinct, part of the 44th Precinct division, received shots fired by 911. They also received ShotSpotter activation. Upon arrival at 1620 Fulton Ave., next to Claremont Park, two young women stood with police from both precincts, stunned by the violence as other cops marked spent rounds and tied yellow crime scene tape.
One of the women stood and twirled a gold cross around her neck, nervously shuffling side to side.
“I never been so close to a shooting,” she sighed as others comforted her. “I don’t even live here. These guys just didn’t care.”
A short time later at close to 9 p.m., another ShotSpotter activation — this time on 169th Street and Sheridan Avenue. The 44 cops quickly closed off Marcy and Sheridan Avenue, forcing drivers to back out of the narrow block. They didn’t want cars running over the more than 20 spent rounds on the road, exchanged between two warring groups, leaving several car windows riddled with holes.
“Here we go again, there must be something in the air,” one detective said dryly. He signaled to a supervisor to have cops check local hospitals for wounded walk-ins.
The detective quickly recognized that two groups were shooting at each other, based on where the shells were found on the street. The 44 cops gathered in the crime scene were already taking bets whether there would be a homicide on this night.
At Giovanni’s Pizza on 165th Street, the owner of 40 years, Giovanni, said the neighborhood is experiencing yet another surge in shootings, but “it used to be we would have one shooting over here every other day. It’s a bit better now.”
Outside his shop was 42-year-old Jamal Walker, a homeless man wearing a blue hooded parka begging for change. He said he lost his maintenance job in April when COVID-19 was at its height.
“I just need a chance, a job – I could do drywall, plaster, carpentry – anything,” Walker said. “That’s the problem around here – so many people have the same problem and that’s the problem with these young kids. What else they have to do? For me, I just need a job and get myself fixed.”