Text by Daryl Khan | Photos by Robert Stolarik
The killing of 18-year-old Tayshana Murphy on an early morning in 2011 has led to a series of retaliatory beatings, stabbings and shootings between the Manhattanville and Grant Houses in Harlem. This historical beef has turned into internecine warfare between the two sides, creating one of the bloodiest and most violent feuds in the city.
NEW YORK — The father of the dead girl takes a look at the brown painted door and shakes his head with contempt. He’s standing where his favorite daughter had danced moments before she was chased down and shot four flights overhead on a cool late summer morning.
“If that door was fixed,” he says pulling at the busted entrance door, “then none of this would’ve happened. She’d be alive. Playing basketball. My life would’ve kept going like it was. But that’s not what happened. It was broken. We’re talking two years later. How can these kids be safe?”
Taylonn Murphy ambles through the same door his daughter, Tayshana, ran through the night she was killed, and into the lobby of 3170 Broadway, one of the nine high-rise buildings that make up the General Ulysses S. Grant Houses, near the border of Harlem and Morningside Heights.
“You can’t believe the emotion that I feel walking into this building,” he said, taking a deep breath as if to steel himself.
He walks slowly through the squalid lobby. A message is scrawled on one of the mailboxes built into the wall to the right of the elevator. It warns the police to keep out. There are two staircases in front of Murphy marked with signs indicating well A and well B.
Murphy chooses B, the one his daughter’s killers took the morning they shot her to death on Sept. 11, 2011.
He explains the details of the case the best he knows them, after sitting in on hours of hearings and court trials. There was a fight between groups of youths from the Grant Houses and the Manhattanville Houses that night. Some youths from the Manhattanville Houses had vengeance on their mind.
“It takes a lot out of you,” he said, huffing as he climbed another of the 43 stairs, retracing the killers’ route one step at a time. “You try to do the best you can.”
According to the Manhattan district attorney’s office, Taylonn’s daughter, known to her friends, basketball teammates and family as Chicken, was outside when two young men from Manhattanville came looking to settle the score. Prosecutors described it as a “cold and calculated hit.” The two men criminally charged with shooting Murphy reportedly said they did not “give a fuck” when she pleaded with them that she was not involved in the fight.
Murphy, a senior at Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers, was considered one of the best players in the nation; a point guard. She had aspirations — realistic ones according to scouts — of starting for a WNBA team.
“Chicken ran up the other stairs,” her father said, trudging up the staircase. “Them boys, they came this way.”
Somewhere in the flights above, someone slammed a door sending a report echoing down the building. Murphy paused when he reached the spot where the gunman fired the shots that killed his daughter.
“He got here and at about the same time she came out of the other stairwell, and that’s when it happened,” he said. “He shot her. Pop. Pop. Pop. This is basically the spot where she died. This spot is where it went from a skirmish to a war — to where we are today.”
Ghostly tributes to Tayshana are barely visible on the dimly lit hallway wall. They show signs of being scrubbed off. One wishes the dead girl, a “Happy 20th BDAY.” Taylonn’s daughter was 18 when she was killed.
“Look at this,” Murphy says, clenching his jaw. It’s the one time he betrays any real anger during the tour of his daughter’s murder scene. “They’ll make sure they clean up a birthday message to my dead daughter,” he hisses through his teeth.
Somewhere upstairs a loud voice echoes in the stairwell. Murphy struggles with his emotion. Tears well for an instant. The moment passes and he finds his composure.
“But they can’t find time to fix a door,” he said. “A door. But they sure as hell make sure they clean this up. What does that say?”
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