Wild Cowboys: Urban Marauders and The Forces of Order

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Four bullet-torn bodies in a drug-ridden South Bronx alley. A college boy shot in the head on the West Side Highway. A wild shootout on the streets of Washington Heights, home of New York City's immigrant Dominican community and hub of the eastern seaboard's drug trade. All seemingly separate acts of violence. But investigators discover a pattern to the mayhem, with links to scores of assaults and murders throughout the city.

In this bloody urban saga, Robert Jackall recounts ...

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Overview

Four bullet-torn bodies in a drug-ridden South Bronx alley. A college boy shot in the head on the West Side Highway. A wild shootout on the streets of Washington Heights, home of New York City's immigrant Dominican community and hub of the eastern seaboard's drug trade. All seemingly separate acts of violence. But investigators discover a pattern to the mayhem, with links to scores of assaults and murders throughout the city.

In this bloody urban saga, Robert Jackall recounts how street cops, detectives, and prosecutors pieced together a puzzle-like story of narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and murders for hire, all centered on a vicious gang of Dominican youths known as the Wild Cowboys. These boyhood friends, operators of a lucrative crack business in the Bronx, routinely pistol-whipped their workers, murdered rivals, shot or slashed witnesses to their crimes, and eventually turned on one another in a deadly civil war. Jackall chronicles the crime-scene investigations, frantic car chases, street arrests at gunpoint, interviews with informants, and knuckle-breaking plea bargaining that culminated in prison terms for more than forty gang members.

But he also tells a cautionary tale—one of a society with irreconcilable differences, fraught with self-doubt and moral ambivalence, where the institutional logics of law and bureaucracy often have perverse outcomes. A society where the forces of order battle not just violent criminals but elites seemingly aligned with forces of disorder: community activists who grab any pretext to further narrow causes; intellectuals who romanticize criminals; judges who refuse to lock up dangerous men; federal prosecutors who relish nailing cops more than crooks; and politicians who pander to the worst of our society behind rhetorics of social justice and moral probity. In such an up-for-grabs world, whose order will prevail?

Robert Jackall identifies obstacles that police face as they try to keep the streets safe.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood is home to a number of violent "crews" that seem to divide their time between drug trafficking and murdering rival gang members. Jackall, a sociologist from Williams College, spent three years as a participant observer of efforts by criminal justice workers to bring members of one such gang, the Wild Cowboys, to account. His tale mixes sociology and journalism, without fitting comfortably into either. The drama centers around the work of homicide detectives in linking separate killings and assaults to a single source. As the title might indicate, Jackall tries to give his book the structure and even the language of a classic western, with a rushing, hard-boiled prose that sounds like Jack Kerouac collaborated with James Cain. But the book lacks definable central characters (a 15-page dramatis personae follows the text) needed to tie together a narrative and give readers someone to identify with through the many layers of the criminal justice system. The author seems most interested in making this a morality tale, as in his previous Moral Mazes, about the world of corporate managers. Little attempt is made to integrate the work into sociological literature on gangs, nor does he discuss the built-in problems of participant observationover identification with subjects and difficulty in generalizing the experience. Still, despite its problems, it does have strengths. Jackall isn't afraid to draw conclusions and his story has an air of authenticity. This book makes a brutal and, for most readers, extremely foreign world seem discomfitingly close. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
Despite a few years of research and the promise of his own marauder-like name, Jackall has written an unremittingly wooden tale of drug-related mayhem.

Jackall (Williams College; Moral Mazes, 1988) spent a few years with the NYPD, following a trail of murders across precincts in Manhattan, the Bronx, and the West Side Highway connecting the two boroughs. The detectives gradually uncover a single gang operating out of a heavily Dominican neighborhood in Manhattan's Washington Heights. The Red Top crew—enamored of Scarface and clavos, secret compartments for guns that line their fancy cars—moves in and takes over the corner drug trade after murdering the local dealers. Jackall is on the scene as the worst offenders are themselves murdered or rounded up for trial, accused of murdering others, from competing dealers to an innocent college grad who made the mistake of passing a gang member on the highway. But this dramatic story is not well served by Jackall's dry style (it's clear why the police referred to him as "the Professor"). He is ill at ease with police lingo, and his use of terms like "pross," "dissing," and "two in the head" can be grating. Clearly, Jackall has an intimate understanding of the complicated case against the Red Top gang, yet it is confused by the book's poor organization. For instance, Jackall opens with a strong focus on the evil Platano, who suddenly drops out of the narrative; and the real murderers in Red Top, Lenny Sepulveda and Freddy Sendra (a.k.a. Freddy Krueger), are dropped in the text randomly before being properly introduced in later chapters after the reader has forgotten their names. A short speech by the sentencing judge crackles with the only real fury here about how thoroughly the gang has ruined the lives of everyone it touched.

An academic, labyrinthine look at the terror gangs inflict on their neighbors and society.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674953109
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1997
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.48 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Jackall has done several years of fieldwork with New York City police detectives and prosecutors, among whom he is known as "The Professor." He is the Class of 1956 Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Williams College.

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Table of Contents

Prologue

A Quad in the Bronx

A Death on the Highway

Fort "Yo No Se!"

Uptown Murders

Cracking the Case

Lenny's Boys

The Takedown

Downtown Justice

Urban Badlands

Troubled Order

Epilogue

Cast of Characters

Timeline

Abbreviations

Notes on Sources

Acknowledgments

Index

Maps

Police Precincts in New York City

Beekman Avenue, Bronx

40th Precinct, Bronx

Mott Haven Neighborhood, Bronx

34th Precinct, Manhattan

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2013

    Personal friends of one of the Victims that was murdered by the

    Personal friends of one of the Victims that was murdered by the Wild Cowboys.   Even though its been over 20 years, not a day goes by  where that fateful day  is not remembered.   Such evil, wicked people, such horrific story of true and blunt disregard for human life.   SO glad they all got convicted in 1995, even though they deserved much worse fates.   But as we all know, we will all have our own Judgement day when we meet our maker....Very accurate book, great read ...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2005

    EX-Convict

    This book is about real gangsters, real killers and real hustlers. I was incarcerated with many members of the infamous 'wild cowboys'. I know some of them from the streets. Thats was da life in washington heights back then, live by gun and die by gun!!!! Its a great book to read and learn about da past.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2005

    Worth the read

    Boy, was this book on the money. I grew up in the neighborhood and knew many of the actors in this tragic play. Things were crazy back then, reeaally crazy. The explosion of cocaine in the early 80's, brought about an unimaginable wave of greed, crime, and murder in NYC, destroying lives beyond belief. This book makes a great attempt in sketching out a rough picture to the reader as to the mayham that occurred during those wild and crazy days. These guys were not joke, Lenny, Platano, Frankie, Freddie etc. etc., and due to their wonton murder game, everyone feared them. These guys were deadly in the neighborhood and in the Bronx, and I mean deadly. Its sad how it all ended up, but if you live by the sword, you'll die by the sword. Nothing lasts forever. Nevertheless, great true crime book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2004

    MARIE FROM THE BX

    I THINK THE BOOK IS REAL. THINGS LIKE WHAT IS SAID IN THE BOOK IS STILL GOING ON.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2004

    AL, 18 years old

    This book is outstanding, I'm the daughter of one of the people mentioned in the book and I think things are done for a reason, I'am proud of my father and my hood for the things that went down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2003

    Know your history

    This is a true story. This is part of our culture and neighborhood. It may not be like this now. Or is it? These tales shaped a community, a lifestyle, every man should read this, whether your'e from the suburbs of Indiana or if the characters happened to be your papi or tio.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2002

    The other reviewer needs to touch up on his grammar

    There are only two ways out of Washington Heights, my friend; through education, or though the subway turnstile.

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