MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — A Manhattan judge turned his bench into a pulpit Tuesday when he exhorted Harlem residents to do more to stop gang violence and bloodshed in their neighborhood.
Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Edward McLaughlin used a hearing where he sentenced five top members of the "2 Mafia Family" and "Goons on Deck" crack dealing gangs to lengthy prison terms to tell Harlem parents to be more involved in their children's lives, and for the community leaders to do everything they can to keep guns out of their hands.
"If your relative is not doing homework, if you are not going to school and talking to their teacher, then you contribute to your child's and your community's destruction," McLaughlin said.
"If you do nothing, you are complicit," he said.
The speech came as McLaughlin sentenced five members of a gang that called 137th Street between Lenox and Seventh avenues home. Jaquan "Jay Cash" Layne, 21, was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison; his brother, Jahlyl Layne, 18, got 7 ½ to 23 ½ years in state prison; Jeffrey Brown, 20, and Habiyb Mohammed, 32, got 15 years to life; and Jonathan Hernandez, 19, got 15 years and 2 months to 17 years and 4 months behind bars.
They had several semiautomatic handguns and revolvers which they used to protect their turf and their drug stashes.
The crew also included former prep school student Afrika Owes, 17, who entered a plea deal where she was allowed to serve the summer in jail in exchange for the chance to earn a clean criminal record by succeeding in school and staying on the right path.
The judge, who has almost 30 years on the bench, used Tuesday as an opportunity to address the issues he sees with gun violence and young people in Harlem and what is not being done about it.
"When someone fires a pistol in Harlem the person almost always is a resident," he continued. "The person fired at is a resident. When a person is injured, the person is a resident. When a person is killed, or paralyzed for life, the person is a resident of that community."
McLaughlin said the community should take ownership fo the gun possession problem, that parents should look for weapons hidden in their homes and residents should not be afraid to come forward with information about weapons.
"The guns, pistols, machine guns and other firearms sometimes are in gang controlled apartments but many are in your homes whether you know it or not or whether you are blind to it or not," he said, addressing the parents of the defendants before him and the community as a whole.
"The weapons used in the 240 shootings in which 277 residents were shot did not appear magically in the hands of the shooters," he said. "There is no 'gun genie' who, upon a secret incantation, places a loaded operable firearm in the hands of an unsuspecting or unwilling Harlem resident."
The judge also cited statistics about youth violence in Harlem.
There were 244 shootings in Harlem between January 2010 and November 2011, he said. Of those, more than half were of people 19 or younger, and at least 71 were gang-related, adding that that number is probably a low estimate considering a lack of cooperation with police in the community.
Assistant District Attorney Christopher Ryan, who prosecuted the case, said that the 137th Street occupied by the gang had been identified by a Harlem police inspector as one of the worst spots in his command.
"It took the inspector two seconds to say 137th street at Lenox Avenue," Ryan said, adding that the inspector said it was "no questions my most difficult block."
But the Feb. 15 takedown of Layne's crew has made an observable important on life in the neighborhood, Ryan said.
"That block now is by all standards very, very quiet," he said.
Prosecutors also recently announced charges against 19 members of a violent gang from West 129th Street between Lenox and Fifth avenues called "One Twenty-Nine" and "Goodfellas/The New Dons," that sold semiautomatic pistols, revolvers, rifles and other weapons.
Layne's crew, including Hernandez who fired about ten rounds of ammunition in a crowded area during a neighborhood Fourth of July celebration, routinely terrorized the neighborhood with their reckless violence, prosecutors said.
"The defendants derailed their lives and the lives of the teens they recruited to join their criminal operation, but the damage they inflicted upon these young people and their surrounding community does not have to be permanent," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said.
Jaquan Layne's attorney, Franklin Rothman, argued his client was no drug kingpin and was begging his grandmother and friends for money from his Rikers Island jail cell, where he was being held on another conviction while prosecutors built the conspiracy case against him and his associates.
Attorneys for the 137th Street crew argued they were not a real gang of any kind and painted them as small-time drug dealers.
According to the DA, 34 people have been fatally shot in Harlem since January 2010.