Street Gangs

La Banda

From the treacherous hood in Panama called Santa Cruz to the streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn the name of Julio “Jack” Guerrero rings loudly. The legend of the man his friends called Julito is a rags-to-riches story of immense magnitude. From the gutters of the ghetto of Santa Cruz to the infamous and notorious Brooklyn hood, Red Hook Julito made his name as a man to be reckoned with in the streets and the drug game and entered the annals of street legends. To this day his name still holds weight in Santa Cruz and Red Hook. To Panamanians he is a hero. His gangster recognized and remembered in hushed and reverent tones. The Panamanian Scarface who represented for his people and put his signature down in the chronicles of gangster lore.

Julito hit New York’s streets in the 1980’s with cocaine and machine guns, chasing dollars and his piece of the American Dream. He fought to be recognized in the streets and in the process gained respect for his people in the violent and vicious world of the drug trade. He was a ruthless character, cold and calculating, playing his part in the dope game and taking what he wanted, by force if necessary. He learned the essence of the street life in the tough neighborhoods of Panama where poverty and crime reigned supreme, It was there that he perfected his gangster and came to define himself as a man to be respected. Santa Cruz was his hood and that’s where he came out of the gutter with only his wits, strength of character and heart. In the city’s slum Julito was molded becoming the epitome of a brutal gangster.

“Santa Cruz life was ghetto,” a female friend of Julito’s from Panama and Red Hook says. “Waiting for the American comes out the other side off Panama to rob them. Santa Cruz was next to it. People from the train station when they get off they rob their waller or jewelry, whatever. They good, get to smoke weed and dress nice and buy themselves anything they wish and could afford with they money they got easy.” Another youngster who came up under Julito and became his protégé in Red Hook explains the mindset of Panamanians from Santa Cruz.

“My hood was Santa Cruz,” he says. “It was located in the city of Panama. Its one of the most notorious hoods in the city. Poverty was thick in my hood. I started robbing tourists at a young age. The police would murder you for this. This was one of the reasons I came to America. I didn’t want to get killed like a dog in the streets with a wallet in my hand. In America I knew I could get rich like my homies that took the trip before me.”

Julito was one of those homies. One of the first Panamanian to come to America, get in the dope game, make money and send it back to Santa Cruz with tales of living the high life in New York. Easy money and gold mines, riches, fame and fortune. These tales inspired the youth of Santa Cruz and they wanted nothing more than to follow in Julito’s footsteps so they too could be like the big homie.

“Julito was from Calidonia Calle 29 (street) and from there they move to Santa Cruz.” The female friend says. “Is five of them three boys and twp girls. When Julito came to the United States it was about 1981. How he came, he came here with a fake ID. Military fake ID with Julito dress like he was in the army force.” Smuggling himself into the United States just like he would later smuggle in cocaine and youngsters to work for and be a part of his crew, La Banda. He began his journey to set up shop and establish his territory and hustle. He settled in Brooklyn where there was a growing Panamanian community in Red Hook, which also attracted a lot of Trinidadians. Red Hook was turning out to be the little Caribbean.

“Julito taught me everything I know,” the protégé says. “When Julito said that he would bring me I was ready to go.” That’s how Julito established himself so rapidly, by bringing over young wolves and gunners, hungry for the life, having heard the tales of Julito’s balling that filtered back to Santa Cruz. The youngsters came over willing and ready to get their hands dirty and prove their gangster by working for Julito at the spots he opened to sell drugs. His crew came to be known as La Banda and had a reputation as vicious and crazy Panamanians that nobody wanted to fuck with.

In the Red Hook project of Brooklyn New York Julito taught his homeboys the intricacies of the drug game. Julito’s crew, La Banda has a stronghold on Colombia Road and the youngster Julito recruited from back home soon had guns in their hands and administered Panamanian hood justice with Uzi’s. Spraying first and asking questions later was their policy. Julito ran his spot with an iron fist. He didn’t take any shorts or have no picks. La Banda was known to open fire as a first recourse for all infractions. They waited behind the door of the spot for any trouble to arise as the workers served the coke that Julito had smuggled in from Panama. Up to $25,000 a DAY CAME
through the door and most of it lined Julito’s pockets as he was none to be all about his money and kept his team hungry. The more willing to jump out there and do what forever he said.

By the time La Banda was entrenched in Red Hook and had the hood on lock the crack era had stormed the city. Being a forward thinking business man Julito realized crack was the new wave. He recruited more homies from back home and expanded his operation. “I was a kid back then,” his protégé says. “I know I made Julito over a million dollars in that first year I was in Brooklyn. Red Hook was a dog-eat-dog world where only the strong survive and the weak perished.” Julito was in all his glory in the streets or Brooklyn. A living legend, sending his money back home to his family and relatives in Santa Cruz. And paying for and sponsoring more and more Panamanians to make the trip to New York.

Julito was vicious, he moved how he wanted to move. As king of Red Hook in the mid-eighties and with a vicious cadre of young killers to back him up he made his own rules. It was his game. “What recollection I have from Julito is he like to party, make money,” his lady friend says. “He like to do anything to get money. Sell drug, rob you for your drug and money and jewels. He used to have three or four girls, one of them used to bring drugs for him from Panama. She get arrested she did five years. Julito will ask you to sell him 5 kilo and when he going to buy he will rob you. Or he will buy and before you get to your destination he will rob you for the same money he just paid you.” Julito employed tactics and strategies he learned in Santa Cruz. Where young kids had to be cutthroat to survive. That’s how he built his drug empire in Red Hook.

“Julito was the first Panamanian around there and he was definitely not welcomed. They were not willing to share profits with an outsider. Keep in mind that we are talking about 1986, the crack epidemic was in full blast,” the protégé says. “Gates as we called them were bringing in 25 to 30 thousand a day sometimes. The wars were always about money, power and respect. Red Hook was another world in the middle of Brooklyn.” And as La Banda took over and fortified themselves war with the Trinidadians erupted. Both groups- the Panamanians and Trinidadians wanted to control the drug trade and traffic in Red Hook. They were willing to go to war with Uzi’s to control it.

A vicious battle ensued with neither group winning or losing. IN fact the two squads decimated each other so that the only one left standing when the violence ended was the infamous Brooklyn legend and Jay-Z partner Calvin Klein Bacote. Before the La Banda/Trinidadians beef Calvin Klein, like the other Americans worked for the Trinidadians. But after the fall out from the war, with nobody left standing, Calvin Klein took over the Red Hook massive. He did his thing and became a legend in his own right but that’s another story. You would think that Julito’s story ended but he just licked his wounds and moved his area of operations south to Washington DC, To more fertile and less contested ground. With all the heat from the bodies that dropped in the drug war between the two groups Julito knew it was time to move on.

Julito moved his La Banda cocaine ring south from New York to Maryland’s Prince George’s County. “Julito left New York and live in DC because he came to New York to get drug and open a spot in DC after he already move his spot making his money. He decided to move his family to DC because Yolanda his wife was tired of him being with other woman.” His lady friend says. In DC all was going good until Julito’s protégé came to town after being run out of New York for some murders and decided to get into business on his own. Julito was infuriated that his former protégé would intrude on his new turf and step on his toes and another beef erupted but luckily it never happened because Julito went to prison for a cocaine charge. When he came out though he found some of his crew from La Banda were working with his protege.

“Julito came home from prison with a different mentality.” The protégé says. “It was all about being on top again. He wanted to bring about a hostile takeover. Jultio was very crafty, one of the best in my book. The world was a chess board for him and he played the game well. His whole objective was to rule every dollar moving.” Julito’s return caused a series of tit-for-tat retaliation murders between crew members as Julito and his protégé vied for supremacy. Men close to both Julito and his protégé died. Still with no outcome as to who was in control.

John Moore, a member of julitos La Banda Maryland Branch and who had always been loyal to Julito worked with the protégé’s crew while Julito was in jail. When he went back to Julito after he got out of jail he was killed. Around 3 a.m. January 23, 1991, the very day after Moore’s body was found, a 19 year old Yusef Battle, a close associate of Julitos protégé was gunned down, shot 33 times by two gunmen in a murder that the streets called a message from Julito. It was a retaliation murder by Julito for John Moore’s murder. The story was about to take a strange twist though. Julito died of an apparent drug overdose.

“He die overdose,” the lady friend says. “He come to New York, got his drugs and next day he was sniffing so much drugs in DC he die. But they said it was bad drug that they give him intentionally. Gave him bad drug to kill him. Annie find him dead in the room.” Street rumors said Julito and his protégé reconciled but it was a fake out. The protégé wanted to get close to Julito to provide him with some strong heroin that he knew would kill him.

Detectives who were called to the scene said that Julito had inhaled too much of the drug and his heart stopped. He was found on the floor of his bedroom by his daughter. Detectives claimed that the protégé “supplied an overdose of heroin to Julito in retaliation for the Yusef Battle shooting.”

But the protégé refutes this. “That was all false propaganda,” he says. “He died of an overdose. Yeah we had our differences but I sleep good at night knowing I did not have to push the envelope that far even though things were going in that direction at one point. He brought me to this country and taught me a lot about the game and life period. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish that Julito was still here. It was love in, love out with us.”

And that’s the story of Julio “Jack” Guerrero. The Panamanian gangster and street legend straight out of Santa Cruz and Red Hook projects. For the Panamanians he lives in notoriety and infamy due to his exploits in the dope game and for his willingness to get that money and spread the wealth. He sent his riches back to Panama and planted the seed of the American Gangster Dream in many other Panamanians Youths who followed him in his footsteps to America to chase that dream and the almighty dollar. His story closely resembles that of fictional Cuban gangster Tony Montana and the Panamanians in Santa Cruz and Red Hook remember his as a Panamanian Scarface.

Interview with Mike Harper, author of Street Raised

New writer Mike Harper arrives on the scene with a well scripted tale of one boy’s plight to gain mastery over privation. Though a work of fiction, he writes of this common occurrence in our inner cities with uninhibited exposure to graphic truths. The story begins in Miami, claiming it to be “the city of growing hustlers.” As a result of limited options and no proper guidance the book’s main character Chino, finds himself succumbing to that precept. The wretchedness of being part of society’s underprivileged is what mandates the calling. Chino answers and he answers hard. Bringing along some equally disadvantaged youths, Chino ascends through street life, becoming as legendary as the historic American gangsters of our time. Street Raised: The Beginning is sure to solidify Harper as a recognized name in the Urban-Street Literature genre.

Harper writes from a prison cell. Once a co-founder and aspiring young rapper on the Southern-based Badland Records. (Also home to Plex Nitty, Black Boy, Chrizac, DirtySouth Players, and Big Will) The future looked promising for Mike “Chico” Harper and label, until in 1997 a special federal task force was put together to arrest a loose band of childhood associates (erroneously dubbed), The Boobie Boys. With the label now struggling and short on its top artist, management reached out to Mike Harper to pen his life’s story. “People were really interested in my situation. Street Raised is not my actual life story, but it is what I was willing to provide, its close enough,” said Harper.

This book has been making its way through the underground scene for the past three years. “This is our fourth run with Street Raised. It’s that book in the hood and prison system. So we decided to have it edited again, redesign the cover and go mainstream with it,” said Tracey Carter, Co-President of Badland Publishing. Here is the Mike Harper Gorilla Convict interview.

Why did you write Street Raised?

I was propositioned to do a story about my criminal case. I didn’t think the time was right for that, so instead I used the opportunity to pen out Street Raised: The Beginning. It’s a similar circus of events. Based on my realities but exaggerated for maximum entertainment. The actual book on my criminal case will be coming after my legal affairs are resolved.

What is the book about?

Realities inside our inner cities. Most importantly though the immediate options we face in the hood when we’re searching for a solution to deprivation, which is way too often selling dope, robbing, or stealing. From a female’s perspective; selling sex. hooking a d-boy or scheming. Consequently, violence is automatically attached to these options (or perceived solutions). I paint a graphic picture of the details involved with this truth. Street Raised: The Beginning is a classic because of these graphic truths that I depict.

What is up with Badland Publishing?

They’re new in the publishing game, but it’s an old company. Music was initially their thing.

How did you get down with this publisher?

I had a previous rapport with them from the music business. I’d like to think that my talent was impressionable, which is why when the company decided to do books they reached out to me. They were amongst the first to proposition me to script a book on my criminal case, so when I decide to pen it that’s who’ll publish it.

What do you think of the street lit game?

The street lit game is much like the music industry. It provides equal opportunity for our culture of people to express their talent. For me it’s an outlet to go on doing what I love, which is articulating my views on our culture. Because of my situation I can never give the world a rap album. Even if I win my pending appeal I’m too old for a rap career. But in this similar game of street lit I can go on presenting my craft without any pressure of fitting the mold. It’s a vehicle to stay in the game.

Who are you, where are you from and what’s your current situation?

I’m a person that refuses to give up. I believe in being positive and productive at all times. Under any circumstances. Even in my darkest hour. I’m from M.I.YAYO. Lil’ River representa’. Currently I’m a decade into a life sentence. My fight for freedom continues. At this very moment I’m awaiting an answer from the district court of appeals.

What’s next for you as an author?

I’ve written hundreds of songs. I’ve written four books Incorporated is coming next. Perhaps in January 2010. My next project is penning out screenplays. That doesn’t mean that the books will stop. I have several more already visualized in my head. I’ll definitely keep the heat coming. I’m just planning to broaden my writing.

Describe your writing style?

As I referenced earlier I think “graphic truths” describes my art best.

What authors do you admire?

There’s a few that I can say I like, such as Sister Souljah, Noire, David Baldacci (he doesn’t write street lit). As far as admire…you know I’m a big fan of my lil brother Plex’ pen. It’ll be fair to say I admire Walter Mosely and of course Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines.

Badland Publishing “Ain’t Nobody Pen’in Like Us Man!” That’s a true bill. I set the standard with Street Raised. Plex is about to take it over the top with Boo Baby: The Secret of Sweet Donnie Mac. Check for it. And for those who didn’t believe, who quit and thought the value of a man depletes when he’s incarcerated…may you awaken one day and realize that some of the most valuable gifts are found in the center of confinement. Such as a diamond inside coal, a pearl inside an oyster, or man inside a prison. It’s your loss.

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