According to legend, Seven Crowns started out in 1970 as a street gang of rabble rousers whose members pelted houses and threatened to burn them down. Its members grew to include the future movers and shakers of Queens, including Anthony “Pretty Tony” Feurtado, Fat Cat and James “Wall” Corley. “Seven Crowns was way early-’70s,” Bing says. “I was in Seven Crowns. It was all on the Southside but different areas. It was all one gang.” While the origin of the name, Seven Crowns, was unclear, two people who were arrested wore gold rings with diamonds in the shape of a seven encrusted over a crown. Each gang member was viewed as a jewel in the crown.
“In the early-’70s Queens had a lot of gangs,” Lance said. “We were fools. We went off the chain. At one point we were 1,500 members strong. That was way back in the early-70s. We were just friends. This is how everything came together. It was one love. We unified like ‘77-‘78. Our role models were guys on the street from the hood who sold drugs. Our childhood was like normal kids. We were wild, but we didn’t carry any guns, we believed in a beat down.”
Queens in the ’70s, as in most areas where black folks settled, was filled with young people with radical leanings and no outlet. After the dismantling of black militant groups like the Black Panthers, street gangs emerged, inspired by the militancy but without the political bent. “Everybody wanted to be in a gang then,” Bing says. “It wasn’t wild. It was comfortable. We had little gang fights but no major killings, little brawls, shit like that, regular shit, no gunplay.”
Michael Mitchell, who everyone called Mr. Black or just plain Black formed the Queens division of the Seven Crowns, a gang originally from the Bronx. His neighbors, Fat Cat and Pretty Tony, joined immediately. “We lived on the same block and we went to the same schools. We knew each other since childhood,” Lance said. “We were trendsetters; we would go out and steal mini-bikes and stuff.”
Seven Crowns broke down into certain divisions and teams. There was the Seven Crowns, Big Crowns, Lil’ Crowns, and Homicide Crowns. When Fat Cat and Lance first joined the Lil’ Crowns, Fat Cat was quickly made war counselor. His primary duty was to represent the Crowns in any dispute requiring a one-on-one confrontation. “Cat was big and strong for his age,” Black said. “Smart kid too, and on top of that he was good with his hands. We were the ones who gave him the name Fat Cat because of his size.” In the Southside of Jamaica, Fat Cat became feared because of his fighting skills. In the ghetto tough guys were admired and respected. Violence was the currency of the streets.
“I first met Fat Cat when we went into the Forties Houses to break up the Seven Crowns. They didn’t call him Fat Cat then. They called him Fat Boy. Any problem in the gang meant a call to Nichols to crush it,” the Queens detective said. “There were only 12 of us in the whole task force, so you got to know the street players pretty well. The Crowns had their drugs, but it was mostly smoke and heroin. No cocaine to speak of. Certainly no crack. Only the white kids were fucking around with angel dust, the same with pills. The Crowns wouldn’t screw around with pills. Fat Cat was just a kid, but he was a big kid. He had a mouth on him too. Still, he had some magnetism. You could see that. If we wanted guys to move, we’d go to Fat Cat. Once the Cat moved, they’d follow.”
When Fat Cat was paroled in 1980 from Spofford, the juvenile facility where he met the young Howard “Pappy” Mason, he walked into a fertile and growing drug market on the Southside. Pretty Tony was doing his thing, so he put Fat Cat on. Fat Cat didn’t just get on though, he locked it down. His ascension to the top of the Queens drug hierarchy was essentially unobstructed. By the time the Supreme Team started hustling, the landscape was changing. They would come to dominate what Pretty Tony and Fat Cat started. They would get deep in the streets and lock the area down just like Fat Cat.
The Cat moved around South Jamaica virtually untouched. He had the occasional riff with dudes from Forty Projects, but for the most part he was just about fun and money. Sixty or so thousand was an average week, and that was just off dope. Fat Cat was doing his thing. He had 20 dudes working for him, and his organization was growing. Pappy Mason held the crew down as enforcer. While everybody played their position, Cat was the shot caller. Together they moved as one, making money and partying. Everyone was styling in Queens.
The names that started ringing bells in the streets of South Jamaica formed an alliance. They were all coming out of the borough that was once the place to raise a family, not duck for cover. With the coming of the young drug lords, all that would change. Forty Projects started rumbling while Baisley Projects was vibrating. The Southside was bubbling with drug crews and money. The natural order would persevere, but in the chaos of the streets anything could happen. Coke was moving, but crack was on the way, and the numbers would rise. These were the wonder years.