These on-the-boulevard businessmen barely have time to do lunch. "Are we finished yet?" J says during a hasty noon interview. "I already lost like $200 on the block. I gotta go back. I need to look after my people, too."

As the profit margin has risen, as the execs have grown older and more sophisticated, the cost of another gang alienating the firm has gotten steeper. 'Capping -- shooting someone in the kneecaps -- is your basic warning: "That means, 'Don't fuck with me,' " says one cop. "'You're not worth a murder rap but don't mess with me.'"

Random drive-bys are out. Direct hits are in. "Everybody who's gone lately, it's been execution," says the cop. "And the rule on the street is: one to the chest to take him down and one or two in the head to finish him off. And then, depending how much of a message you want to make, throw two or three more."

"It's escalating," says one law-enforcement source. "The incidents are more serious. The kids mean business."

Take the schools, for example. Before, says one street source, kids would be carrying unloaded showoff pieces. Now the authorities are confiscating loaded semi-automatics. Like from the kid who left school, got a .22 semi, and returned with the intention of smoking one of his classmates. "No fucking question about it," says the source. "He was going to do it."

That close call was over a crack debt. Bu these gangsters are often shooting each other over perceived insults, petty rumors -- typical teenage crap. Left to founder in an underclass sub-culture build around guns, drugs, and fast cash, the average adolescent starts playing by badly skewed rules.

"These guys, they don't have a clue on how to deal with a confrontation except by eliminating the obstacle or whoever's in their way," says Gerry Nuzzolo. "Their vision of what respect is and how to get it is just completely, incredibly, dangerously distorted, to the point of where taking a life has just become a standard."

Not too long ago, there was a 15-year-old kid who lost his life simply because, according to a knowledgeable source, he was the most convenient target for some young men to vent their rage on. The kid, call him Billy, sold a .38 pistol to a 15-year-old for 30 jums, the equivalent of $300. Later on that day, the kid who bought the gun and a friend of his were playing with the piece. It went off, apparently by accident, killing a friend.

But both the kid who bought the gun and the one who died by it were linked to a gang. Billy wasn't. And when the rest of the posse needed someone to blame for their friend's death, they picked Billy. They killed him by putting a bullet in his skull. "They figured he shouldn't have sold a gun to a kid who was only 15, even though he was only 15," the source explains.

From that distorted perspective, the gangsters also see the cops as just a pack of boys in blue stuck in the middle of the fracas. "The new attitude is basically 'Fuck the po-lice. Fuck authority,' " says one cop. "As a couple of kids have told us this year, 'We ain't' going down like that [submissive].' There is no submissive posture out there anymore."

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  Topics: Flashbacks , Crime, gangs, X-Men
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