Hurting in Harlem

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. 

Update June 4, 2014: Dozens Arrested in Gang Raid at Harlem Housing Projects

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?”

Read the full story on JJIE


Comments (1)

  1. Mike Males

    Others can criticize me here, but I want to strongly protest this kind of narrow, smug-grownup story in which adults take no responsibility for their own violence–and the reporter rewards them for dishonesty. Parents scared of kids? Let me quote the police webpage: “NYPD responds to upwards of 250,000 domestic incidents annually, or nearly six-hundred calls a day.” 600 a day! That’s only a fraction of what occurs in the city, including in Harlem! How many of these “violent kids” were raised in brutal, abusive households amid drug-addicted parents and beatings, rapes, and shootings by nearby adults–but now that the kids are reacting to and emulating what they’ve learned from their elders, suddenly the press and politicians arrive on the scene, and it’s “the kids” who are the root problem. Where were these adults, these leaders, these expert mouths, this reporter when 5 year-olds, or 10-year-olds, or 12-year-olds were being beaten and molested and shot at and killed in their violent homes? I’m sorry to sound so bitter and intemperate, but I worked directly in homes in child abuse prevention for years, and I have no patience for the come-latelys who “discover” violence only when teenagers repeat the cycle. I’m certainly sorry for the tragedies, but they began long, long before the youngsters got into the act–and it’s time we recognized the hidden tragedies that generated them.