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Although police officials and spokesmen for the anti-crime organization Move Up don't agree, some street-level crime watchers theorize that much of this summer's bloodshed may be the result of young gangsters fighting for power in a vacuum created by Fat Tone's murder.
If so, the city's newest gangsters are simply repeating what Fat Tone did a year and a half ago, laying claim to the streets after police arrested a man named Steven Wright Jr.
Wright wasn't a musician who issued his threats on CD. But police say he is the most notorious gangster in the city's recent memory.
A city struggling to understand this summer's surge in violence might find clues in Wright's thick court files. Detectives charge that Wright, known on the streets as Moody, turned the city's streets into his own personal war zone.
Wright's alleged involvement in dozens of cop chases, robberies, shootings and killings -- all before he turned 18 -- earned him respect as a gangster who took the streets for himself.
Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department Detective James Herrington says Wright was one of the first cases that supervisors handed him when they launched the Career Criminal Unit in early 2000. If detectives took down the young gangster, police believed, the war would end between the 51st Street Crips and the Third Wall Bloods, and violent crime would decrease throughout the inner city.
After a three-year investigation, Herrington served Wright a federal warrant in October 2003, charging him with seven counts of conspiracy for masterminding a violent drug ring with 11 other 51st Street gangsters. Wright's trial has been delayed several times and is expected to be rescheduled again later this year.
Neither Wright nor his attorney would consent to an interview for this story. The information that follows has been gathered from the 17 pages of Wright's indictment and other police sources, and from interviews with Wright's fellow gang members and residents of the neighborhoods where he grew up.
Wright was known to look his adversaries in the eyes when he arrived to settle a dispute. His fearlessness gave him influence over gangsters who were years older, making the 51st Street Crips more organized than many of the other gangs in the inner city.
Before Wright's reign, Kansas City's gangs had been notable for their lack of organization.
David Starbuck, the original supervisor of the Kansas City Police Gang Unit, says organized street gangs arrived in Kansas City in the mid-1980s, when the drug-dealing families of the Waterhouse Posse immigrated from Kingston, Jamaica. The violent Jamaican gangs introduced crack to inner-city neighborhoods. In 1986, Starbuck was sworn in as a federal deputy to work beside agents for the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Immigration and Naturalization Services; and the FBI to build federal conspiracy cases against gang members. Over the next three years, Starbuck says, hundreds of Jamaican nationals were convicted in federal court or deported -- or they fled. Police celebrated the victory, unaware of the more elusive gangsters recruiting young men throughout the inner city.
They had arrived from Los Angeles. Facing a police crackdown there, and afraid of the violence they'd created in their own neighborhoods, the weaker Bloods and Crips headed east. Here, without competition from other drug dealers, they could make good money. A kilogram of cocaine with a street value of $13,000 in Los Angeles could yield a $100,000 profit sold in small quantities as crack in Kansas City.
Drive-by shootings in Kansas City, a trademark of the war between the California Bloods and Crips, jumped from 15 in 1989 to 297 in 1990.