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In anticipation of the 1996 Summer Olympics, and to break up what had become pockets of poverty and crime, the city in the early '90s began the two-decade process of demolishing all of Atlanta's housing projects. Gang members were dispersed as projects were razed and, as a result, gangs in Atlanta changed. Once police eradicated housing-project gangs, street-level drug dealing became less organized. At the same time, investigators took down the Miami Boys' drug enterprise — and a position opened up for a top-level cocaine distributor. In the late '90s, a crew called the Black Mafia Family stepped in to fill the void. Not a street gang, per se, BMF was a highly structured organization with an eventual 500 associates in a half-dozen states. And with BMF in power, many of Atlanta's drug-turf wars subsided. BMF's leaders generally frowned on violence, out of concern that it would endanger their lucrative drug enterprise.
After a decade-long investigation began dismantling BMF in 2005, a new — and bigger — organization took its place. Jack Killorin, director of the federal task force that targets major drug distributors, says his agency's primary target is no longer BMF.
Killorin: "Now, no question, the dominant players in the drug market here are the Mexican cartels. This area has become the center-point for narcotics distribution in the eastern United States. These people would have wiped their feet on BMF."
Burglary kings: The International Robbing Crew
After the drug trade in Atlanta was somewhat stabilized, initially by BMF and then by Mexican cartels, street gangs in Atlanta began looking to another manner of illegal cash flow — burglaries. The International Robbing Crew took organized thieving to new heights in Atlanta. And in IRC's case, the thefts came with a heavy dose of violence. Active locally since the '90s, IRC members — many of whom came from New Orleans — were responsible for a litany of robberies and murders between 2005 and 2007.
Killorin: "Some gangs — International Robbing Crew and some of the others — were really a post-Katrina [phenomenon]. It was a gang, a tough gang, but it doesn't have any [longevity] behind its existing membership."
Police were able to draw parallels between IRC's many crimes, which were laid out in a chart inside a dense case file in Fulton County Superior Court. Here are some of the similarities between the attempted robbery of a man named Gary Lester and the murders of three men: Randy Griffin, Clarence Hargrave and Dwayne Osby:
Motive: In all four cases, the motive was robbery.
Victim: IRC targeted people believed to be involved in illegal activity, like dealing drugs, because the victims would be hesitant to call police.
Items targeted: IRC focused on the theft of jewelry and money, as well as guns and drugs.
Number of perps: As many as eight people carried out the crimes.
Surveillance: Victims were scoped out before IRC made its move.
News outlets reported that another IRC-linked crime, the shooting death of Iraq war veteran Ryan Harmon, might have been "target practice." But in a 2007 interview with Atlanta Police Detective D. Quinn, IRC member Daquan Stevens, who was present the night of Harmon's shooting, explained the killing was calculated — and started over a parking disagreement at a downtown strip club.
Stevens: "Me and [fellow IRC member] Marciell [Easterling], one day we sitting in front of Magic City. [They] tried to charge him to park in front of the club. So I laugh. No harm in laughing. [Harmon] was like, 'What the fuck so funny?' I even took time out to explain myself to the man. 'Hey, look bro, it was nothing like that.' I turned back to look at Marciell, and I then turned back around. They done rolled the back window down — then pointed a pistol at me. Marciell got a gun on him. I grab him, tell him no. I pull off. [A couple of days later], me and Marciell seen him again and shot through the back of [Harmon's] truck. [We] went and put the gun up at the house, and that was it. Then we went to the club."
In a far more elaborate scheme, IRC victim Griffin was targeted for robbery, but IRC botched the job. As Griffin ran from the scene, he jumped into a second car filled with IRC members whom he mistook for help. An appeal filed by Stevens, a participant in the crime, describes what took place:
"On May 22, 2007, [Stevens] followed Randy Griffin to his townhouse with the intent to rob him. There was a second car of gang members already laying in wait at Griffin's complex. The gang members in the second car engaged in a shootout with Griffin. In a panic, Randy Griffin ran outside the complex, entered the car occupied by [Stevens] and told the occupants he had just been robbed. At that point, [Stevens] and his cohorts elected not to kill Griffin for fear of being recorded by street surveillance cameras."