Rochdale Village in South Queens was the place where the guy formerly known as Curtis Jackson started selling crack cocaine, when he was just 12 years old. It's the place where he got busted as a teenager, before he was sent to a correctional "boot camp". It's also the place that provided this future rap star-- who changed his name to 50 Cent-- with the stories for some of his famous songs.
"I'm rich, I still wake up, with crime on my mind," 50 Cent rapped in "I Don't Need 'Em". "Queens n----a put it down like Pappy Mason in his prime."
Pappy Mason was the drug enforcer who controlled South Queens' crack trade under his boss, Lorenzo "Fat Cat" Nichols, during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980's. Pappy once ruled at South Jamaica Houses, a development of 40 buildings on 160th Street, in a community north of Rochdale Village. Mason has been out of the 'hood for more than twenty years, getting sentenced to life without parole--for his part in the execution of a New York City police officer in 1988. The rookie who was in the wrong place at the wrong time was 22 year old Edward Byrne, ambushed in his patrol car, as he guarded the home of a drug witness on February 26, 1988. The four men convicted in state court of carrying out Mason's orders will be eligible for parole soon. Officer Byrne's famiy--and the PBA police union--have launched a public awareness campaign, hoping to keep the killers in prison.
PIX 11 decided to pay a visit to Rochdale Village, where 50 Cent was arrested as a teen by undercover cops, to see what happened to the crack trade there.
"It is no crack epidemic anymore," 54 year old Freddie Sneed, Junior told us on Guy Brewer Boulevard. "There's people still using, but they have more or less gone underground," Sneed said.
Sneed acknowledged he used to deal crack for years and even went to state prison in 2002 for nine years. He said he decided to turn his life around when his mother died, and he got the opportunity for parole. "I came home and my dad was by himself, and I chose to be the son I was supposed to be to my dad," Sneed said.
Sneed told us he now drives a truck and doesn't miss having to look over his shoulder, like he always did when he was a drug dealer. "I got shot twice," he told PIX 11, with a bullet scar visible on his neck. "Now, we go to work, we come home, we socialize, we have a couple of drinks, and we go to sleep," Sneed said. When PIX 11 asked Sneed if that was a better life than what he had, he replied, "Absolutely! Opposed to standing out here on the street corner, ducking gunshots? Wouldn't you say so!!??"
When PIX 11 called the NYPD to ask about present-day arrests for drug sales in the 103rd Precinct, where Byrne was killed--and the 113th Precinct to the south, where Rochdale Village is located--we received some figures that seem to indicate there's been a steep decline in obvious drug activity from the late 80's. The NYPD reported 125 arrests for drug sales through September 30th of this year. That's a 25 percent increase from 2011, but nothing like the volume you might have seen in crack's heyday. The 113th Precinct reported 39 arrests for drug sales through September 30th, which is a 47 percent decrease from the same period in 2011.
In Rochdale Village, a 30 year old man calling himself "Rah" pointed out drug gangs still exist all over, even out in middle-class areas of Long Island. "Drug gangs ain't just in urban neighborhoods," Rah said. "They're in suburbs, everywhere! It's not just a "color" thing. It's a fact there ain't no money no more. No jobs. So people got to go to other resources."
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