Importing Crime

By Kevin Jenks
Volume 8, Number 2 (Winter 1997-1998)
Issue theme: "Australia's identity crisis"

Lo and behold, from the Harvard University Press issues a book that sides with the police against the criminals, with immigration enforcement authorities against illegal aliens, and with America's law-abiding, taxpaying citizenry against the interests that profit from America's growing imported underclass.

Robert Jackall, the author of Wild Cowboys Urban Marauders and the Forces of Order, carried out the field work for his book largely in New York City's 34th Precinct, where he rode with police officers for over two years in 1992-1994. There his research centered on the dynamics of retailing unlawful drugs in some of New York City's most dangerous neighborhoods, above all the Washington Heights section of northern Manhattan.

Jackall's presentation of how narcotics trafficking and out-of-control immigration, inextricably intertwined, have transformed what, only a generation ago, was still an American neighborhood, would by itself make Wild Cowboys a valuable contribution to the immigration controversy. It is more valuable still for its unflinching relation of the chilling details of how American law enforcement officers were abandoned and betrayed by some of New York's leading officials - out of their desire to placate a 'community' dominated by alien felons.


Kevin Jenks, a previous contributor, reported on Dominican immigration policy in the Summer 1997 issue of The Social Contract - Vol.VII, No. 4, p.268. In the 1980s Washington Heights became New York's leading center for distribution of crack cocaine (which seems to have been invented there). At that time (as it is today), the area was the chief destination and center of settlement for immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Many are doubtless hardworking and honest, but as Jackall shows, in the late 1980s and early 1990s a criminal class, comprised largely of illegals, was able to parlay profits from the drug trade and other illicit enterprises, coupled with murderous intimidation, into commanding economic and political influence.

In form, Wild Cowboys is a true-crime book. It derives its title from the name of one out of the numerous gangs of Dominican crack sellers that flourished in Washington Heights during the past decade. The book's narrative focus is on the investigation, solution, trial and punishment of three different murder cases committed by members and associates of the Wild Cowboys during the gang's brief and violent efflorescence. Two of these killings (which entailed six murders) involved business disputes between the Cowboys and their competitors in late 1991; the third, in May of that year, was the drive-by shooting of a young white motorist from the suburbs who was unwise enough to cut off several Cowboys as they drove home from a downtown Manhattan club.

As a crime book, this is a good, though dense, read. The cast of characters is huge police, prosecutors, 'vics' (murder victims), and the inevitable 'perps,' whose multitudinous numbers in Wild Cowboys are further bolstered by numerous aliases and street names. There's no end of police heroics, painstaking detective work, and sardonic insight into the dynamics of drug trade on the streets. Hardnosed (as well as dry) Jackall recognizes that '[t]he most important rule in this world of action is that violence is the first resort to solve all problems' (p. 65). His depiction of his subjects is nothing if not 'subversive' (as today's trendy academics like to call their notions) of the widely held confusion of slum cutthroats with urban Robin Hoods. Furthermore, Jackall has a fine, flinty, Yankee kind of irony that makes his book's sociological - or better sociopathological - focus more easily bearable, and serves also as an effective counterpoint to the lurid, semitropical lushness of its characters' passions and deportment.

Yet it is in its analysis of immigration-connected crime that Wild Cowboys shines. Jackall bells a cat that thousands of timorous souls (many of them self-described 'conservatives') have shied from in hundreds of prolix circumevasions in one lapidary sentence 'Illegals generate illegality' (p. 62) - three words that might be posted beside, if not in place of, Emma Lazarus's tired lines a few miles south of Washington Heights.

Jackall outlines the workings of an entire illicit economy in place, enabling migrants from the Dominican Republic first to gain a foothold and earn a living in New York, then to send large amounts of money back home. Such immigrants, both legal and illegal, enjoy instant access to a dense network of opportunities and services, some proscribed only for non-citizens, such as various welfare benefits; others, such as unregistered hand guns or forged documents, forbidden to citizen and alien alike. The author evokes in detail the plenitude of fake documents - from social security cards to driver's licenses to green cards to passports - illegals are able to buy within a few days of their arrival in Washington Heights. He hopes to dispose a few of his readers to hear or read, ever again, the words 'undocumented aliens' without a smile of contempt.

Among the Dominicans who swarm to New York legally and illegally (a report in the New York Times [November 10, 1997] described Dominicans as 'New York City's largest and fastest growing immigrant group'), it is the hard young men without prospects from the urban slums of Santo Domingo, San Pedro de Macoris, or Santiago who supply Wild Cowboys's most memorable characters. As Jackall points out, like Al Pacino's ruthless Marielito in the remake of Scarface, the Dominicans who serve as captains and cadres of the crack crews regard American justice with contempt, and consider the lucrative rewards to be had from the drug business and from such sidelines as stealing and altering luxury cars for export as theirs for the taking.

Their exploits helped boost the 34th Precinct, twenty-five years ago largely a peaceable preserve of Irish Americans and Jews emigrated from Germany (among them the youthful Henry Kissinger), into a pandemonium of murder and mayhem where at least 638 homicides were committed from 1987 through 1993. These statistics, of course, fail even to hint at the horrors they enumerate hapless bystanders, some of them children, shot dead by mistake; participants in the highly competitive drug game murdered by their bosses (to punish some infraction) or by outsiders (to learn the whereabouts of hidden drugs or cash, often after excruciating torture).

For a prime specimen of America's recent immigration bumper crop of desperadoes from the Dominican, consider one Francisco Medina. An enforcer and assassin whose relentless ferocity in another place and time might have earned him a sobriquet from Greek mythology, or perhaps the Book of Revelation, in Washington Heights (in a homage to the emissive power of American popular culture, even in northern Manhattan), he became known as 'Freddy Krueger.' He entered America illegally in 1988, swimming to shore in Miami from a freighter on which he had stowed away. Eventually hooking up with the Wild Cowboys in New York as their enforcer and assassin, he acquired his reputation and his nickname by the relentless and nightmarish ferocity with which he carried out his assignments. Able to escape to the Dominican Republic - which, by law, does not extradite its citizens(!) - Freddy turned his attention to santeria, of which it is said he has become a wizard. In April of 1997, however, following importuning from America, he was arrested by Dominican authorities, and may or may not, depending on the pressure the U.S. is able (in view of popular Dominican defiance of the Yankee Colossus) and willing (in view of his standing as a clergyman) to exert in the future, be brought back to New York to stand trial for the seven to fifteen murders he is thought to have committed.

Many thousands of compassionless criminals have swarmed through our porous immigration controls; then used New York and America's capacious 'safety net' and the tattered seines of our criminal system to soar high and swim far and wide, unapprehended, to vast, illegal profit. The civic-minded American might think that immigration scandal enough to reveal - and to bear. Those Americans, however, who in the words of Britain's late Enoch Powell have 'hardened their faces like flint' to see and hear the worst about our country's immigration tragedy, and then to do something about it, are very much in Jackall's debt for his not omitting the sickening details of the role of American officials and interests in the fall of Washington Heights during the two hundredth anniversary of its namesake's first presidency.

Briefly related, in 1988 a New York police officer named Michael Buczek was shot dead after he happened on a drug robbery in Washington Heights. His murderer, Daniel Mirambeaux, escaped to the Dominican Republic. Police were shocked by the absence of cooperation from the good non-citizenry and citizenry of the Heights. Meanwhile, Joseph Occhipinti, a hard-charging, highly decorated officer who was chief of Immigration Naturalization Services anti-smuggling unit in the New York area, began an investigation of the network of bodegas, or shops, in laundering drug money for remittance to the Dominican Republic, where it is a key prop in the DR's feeble economy.

As the investigation proceeded, the bodega owners, many of them of course drug-connected if not gang chiefs themselves, made a great outcry over their violated 'civil rights.' New York city's first black mayor, David Dinkins, was elected in 1989; his margin of victory was New York's Spanish-speaking voters. By 1991, Occhipinti was indicted on a variety of charges which hinged on testimony by various of the owners of the bodegas he had searched. Before Occhipinti was able to gather evidence impeaching his accusers, he was convicted, and sentenced to over three years in prison. When his appeal failed, he was put in a holding cell for a while with several drug dealers from Washington Heights, then transported to El Reno prison in Oklahoma.

Just a few weeks after the INS's foremost crime fighter in Washington Heights was unceremoniously deposited in a maximum security federal penitentiary, NYPD patrolman Michael O'Keefe shot and killed a certain Kiko Garcia after a desperate struggle in the heart of Washington Heights. Following a riot in the Heights, noisy asseverations of the late Garcia's innocence and probity in front of City Hall, and the testimony of purported eyewitnesses that Garcia had been unarmed, Mayor Dinkins and Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger (1997's Democratic candidate for mayor) publicly sympathized with the Garcias and shunned O'Keefe and his fellow cops. Even after it was demonstrated incontrovertibly that Garcia was a drug pusher, and that the 'eyewitnesses' were his associates, O'Keefe received no apologies. Meanwhile, New York City paid for his burial in the Dominican Republic.

Joe Occhipinti was pardoned by President Bush just before he left office in 1993, and fights to bring the facts of criminality connected to immigration abuse to the American public (although he has never been exonerated of the false charges brought against him). Dinkins and Messinger have been banished from office. Serious crime in New York City, and even in Washington Heights, is in decline.

Yet, as Jackall demonstrates, there is no cause yet either to decrease our vigilance or to slacken in the fight for immigration reform. The flood tide of illegal immigration from the Dominican Republic shows no sign of abating. That country remains a refuge for scores and hundreds of thugs besides 'Freddy Krueger,' all of them sought for serious crimes committed in America. As Dominicans continue to acquire voting rights in America, New York's politicians will continue to court their votes, whether in Washington Heights or in Santo Domingo, as did Messinger in 1997. Given the easy acceptance that even a reputed hard-liner on crime such as New York's Mayor Rudy Giuliani offers to the illegal aliens that continue to infest his city, both the tinder and the fuel for a flare-up of the intensity of the Dominican drug wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s are in ample supply.

All too few books that bring the analytic ability of a scholar of Robert Jackall's powers - not to mention a hard-headedness that approaches that of a veteran street cop - to bear on immigrant crime as it menaces us and holds us hostage and suborns our elected elites are available to the American public today. Readers in search of a narrative at turns thrilling, at times enthralling; who can face hard facts and stern truths; and an author who stands up for the good guys, are directed without reservation to Wild Cowboys. TSC