Sole Survivor

Howard Youngblood's roommates were shot to death, yet he clings to the place where it all went down

There isn't but 120 pounds to Howard Youngblood, and every single ounce of the young black man is torqued with anxiety.

He is one of four people who shared a home on East Chipman Street in South Phoenix. His roommates, Man-man, Dink and Mookie, as well as a visitor, Rolanda, were all executed inside the house on February 7.

Rolanda lingered some moments before she passed away.
With her last breath Rolanda reportedly told authorities: Talk to Howard.
The Chipman massacre was followed by the slaughter a few blocks away in an apartment on Pueblo Street where four people-- including a toddler--were gunned down 48 hours after the first shooting.

Youngblood, 25, agreed to talk, once located. Sometimes a man just needs a good listening to, particularly a man who has, and continues to, put his life in jeopardy.

Youngblood claims to know how everyone died, and he offers the first clear explanation for the carnage.

Of course, crack is involved.
"It's one of two ways you can make money here," says Youngblood. "The other is PCP."

All told, five bodies left South Phoenix crackhouses in hearses and another three departed in ambulances.

The mayor, the city council, the press and more cops than you can count are swarming the area. Few can remember a deadlier set of headlines.

But I remember.
I remember living in this neighborhood in the late Seventies. In those days, the intersection of 24th Street and Broadway, the hub of the recent shootings, suffered from rag-picker poverty and degenerate vice. Even 20 years ago, the violence at that particular stoplight was decades old. And this was long before crack made its appearance.

I moved my grandmother from a New York housing project to my apartment in South Phoenix in 1978. Even with--or, maybe, because of--her experience in a federal tenement, she refused to let me drive her through the intersection of 24th Street and Broadway. She feared the clusters of black men with their bottles of fortified wine. When we wanted to cross the Salt River, she insisted on going out of the way to Central Avenue bridge. Eventually, she chose to return to public housing back East.

In 1988, New Times did a series on the crack trade that flourished at 24th Street and Broadway. Worried about embarrassing revelations, Phoenix's then-police chief Ruben Ortega got caught trying to undermine the paper's investigation into what his own cops had identified as the state's deadliest corner. The articles focused on the drug dealing at Keys Market. The city closed the grocery store but crack hustlers continued to thrive at the intersection. There was no public outrage over the white-rock scourge devastating South Phoenix.

Last month, 10 years after the paper's investigation and the closure of Keys Market, 20 years after my grandmother fled South Phoenix, the city awoke to find bodies being harvested as if cadavers were a cash crop.

Nothing had changed. The Mexican-American police chief was eventually succeeded by the city's first black police chief; still, the neighborhood deteriorated.

The economy boomed, minority leaders wielded real power, black politicians and police substations stood up for South Phoenix, yet nothing changed.

Why?
Why do our hard-core neighborhoods, and it's not just South Phoenix, continue to bury their young?

There are articles waiting for writers that might explain those parts of the city that have been abandoned, but we can begin to describe the hopelessness with Howard Youngblood. For a while, anyway, he is still on his feet.

Youngblood's story is that he was not at the Chipman Street house at the time of the quadruple killing because he had "a funny feeling that something bad was going to happen."

Premonitions are not the kind of alibi that homicide detectives want to hear.

Nor are the police his only problem.
Youngblood claims a woman in the neighborhood is demanding that he vacate the Chipman Street residence so she can take it over as her own crackhouse.

If he refuses, Youngblood says she promises to "cut me from my asshole to my throat."

The woman with the blade poses one threat; there are others.
This busted-down turf heels to the Broadway Gangsters, a crew that claimed allegiance from several of the deceased, though not, Youngblood claims, from him. The Broadway G's have a different agenda from local hustlers, like the woman with the knife, who want to grab the crackhouse. The Gangsters demand that Youngblood steer clear of the cops so they can settle the score.

On a recent weekend night, Youngblood says, some very dangerous people in the Broadway G's got their hands on him. He says that inside his locked house, guns were pulled, cocked and put to his head.

The men with the guns told Youngblood to keep his mouth shut.
Instead, he is talking to me.
"I'm starting to fear for my life," Youngblood says. "I told them they need to stop tripping. . . . If I'm going to do or say anything, I'd already have told."

No matter who, or how many, were killed, there are people who don't want the police getting too close. Drug merchants and gangbangers take care of their own business.

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