In 1986 New York was a dangerous place to live. New York City had 1,309 homicides in the first 10 months of that year, a year in which crack seemed to be an epidemic. That homicide figure is almost 20 percent higher than that of the same period in 1985 and nearly matches the number of homicides for all of that year, when 1,384 people were killed. Urban neighborhoods were nothing like the hip, gentrified enclaves that they are today. Gangs like the Decepticons, Deceptonettes, and Brooklyn crew, made each and every subway ride a game of survival. But there was no bigger gang than the New York City Police Department. There was an intense distrust between the NYPD and the very citizens that it had sworn to protect and serve. In many cases the Police themselves were the worst offenders, often embroiled in scandal, and preying on young Black and Latino men who were are characterized as guilty until proven innocent, fostering an us against them mentality. It is this legacy of skepticism that made 19 year old Larry Davis a folk hero.
The South Bronx was a devastated neighborhood back in those days. A landscape notorious for its garbage filled vacant lots, burned out abandoned buildings, and extraordinarily high crime rate. Despite its ominous reputation, this atmosphere served as an inspiration for arguably the most influential and profitable art form in history, hip-hop.
For those who were about to realize their dreams and escape the peril of the street, it was a classic example of that old cliche', making lemons out of lemonade. But for the many more who didn't, life on the streets became an art form in and of itself. One in which new pictures were painted in progress from one day to the next. Never really completed, but content to color in freedom and survival by the day. This is the urban landscape that created Larry Davis.
Davis was born in 1968. Being 1 of 12 children in a single parent household presented an especially unique set of challenges for Davis, and he eventually dropped out of High School and fell into a life of crime, and In March of 1985, Davis pled guilty to petty larceny and was put on probation. He was found in violation of probation in January 1986. Sometime that same year, Davis became a father after his girlfriend Melody Fludd gave birth to their daughter, Larrima.
By that fall, Davis is believed to have stepped up his illegal activities, becoming involved in several robbery-murder cases. He became a suspect in several murders of alleged drug dealers, including the October 30th killings of Jesus Perez, Juan Rodriguez, Hector Figueroa, and Angel Castro in the Bronx.
On November 19, 1986, more than 20 police officers were sent to bring in Davis for questioning. He hid in his sister's apartment. Refusing to surrender, in a scene straight out of a wild west shoot out, Davis engaged in a gunfight with police. Six officers were wounded in the exchange of bullets and shotgun blasts. Davis escaped capture this time, and became the subject of an intensive manhunt, which lasted 17 days. The Black community became infatuated with Davis as a mythical urban hero. One of our own who had taken on the enemy, and won, at least for a time.
He was finally taken into custody on December 6 after holding a family hostage in their apartment in the Twin Parks West housing project for numerous hours. As he was taken away from the scene, some of the project's residents cheered for him and chanted his name.
Before he caught, Davis had expressed concerns that the police were out to get him. He told his sister Regina Lewis that "If I'm caught in the street, the police are going to shoot me. But I am going to shoot them first," according to an article in The New York Times. Davis even attempted to escape from jail, a plan that was thwarted by corrections officers at the Rikers Island prison. He had tried to pass a map to two visitors, which was taken by the guards.
Davis was first tried for the four drug-related murders of October 30 in December 1987. Represented by lawyer William Kunstler, he maintained that he had been framed in the killings to justify the November 19 shootout. Davis claimed that the shootout was an effort to silence him for his knowledge of police corruption and drug dealing. When pressed to provide evidence to support his claim, he said that he would not do so unless he received immunity from prosecution.
Despite fingerprint and ballistic evidence, Davis was acquitted of all charges in his murder trial in March 1988, but was convicted in weapons charges. This verdict angered many Police Officers who blamed the outcome on the fact that the jury consisted of 10 African-Americans and 2 Latinos. Even going so far as to call the verdict racist. Davis was eventually sentenced to 5-15 years in prison for the weapons charges. Two years later, Davis was convicted of second-degree murder, felony murder, and attempted robbery for the August 5, 1986 murder of Bronx crack dealer Raymond Vizcaino. He was sentenced to 25 years to life for his crimes.
While in prison Davis was involved in a number of incidences for which he received disciplinary actions, and died in the prison yard after being stabbed numerous times by another inmate.
Whether you believe that he was a hero, legend, or villain, one thing that we can all agree on is the fact that Larry Davis' was a product of the time that he lived in. A tragic victim of circumstance who decided to take a stand by playing a game that he knew he could never win. A man whose notorious exploits, will always proceed him in infamy.