Senior citizens were frightened to leave their modest public housing apartments, schoolchildren walked past drug deals in hallways, and drug dealers carried on as if they owned the place.
It went on for years at the Commodore Perry Homes.
But Diane Gates and a handful of other residents said they never lost hope.
They gathered regularly to pray and, on Wednesday, Gates said, their prayers were answered.
Early Wednesday morning, the landscape took a turn for the better as some 300 local, state and federal police raided four apartments in high-rises and the homes of two Fruit Belt-area drug gangs.
Gates and her friends gave thanks.
“People are afraid to talk, but I’m not. I have Jesus,” said Gates, who clasped the hands of her friend Carla Kelly to offer thanks in front of the 124 Fulton St. high-rise they call home.
In total, 18 people were arrested, including Tyshawn Bradley, who was identified by authorities as an alleged cocaine wholesaler who supplied dealers at the housing project and members of the Fruit Belt Posse and Dodge Town gangs.
U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. held a news conference in front of 124 Fulton to drive home the message that the drug dealers were no longer in control.
“This is where people live and work. The drug dealers must have thought that they were immune by embedding themselves in a public housing project,” Hochul said. “This is now open and safe for residents and for businesses.”
A submachine gun, two handguns, $30,000 and almost 3½ pounds of powdered cocaine and crack cocaine were confiscated, according to the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force and Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda.
The haul of contraband was impressive, Derenda said, but that wasn’t the most important result of the raids.
“It’s not so much what we confiscated but who we were able to take off the streets,” Derenda said. “They were violent gang members responsible for robberies and assaults. Some may end up charged with homicides.”
Bradley, 27, of Cheektowaga, allegedly operated out of the high- rise apartments, storing his drugs and selling to dealers in the housing project – located at the edge of downtown near the emerging Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus – and to members of the Fruit Belt gangs.
Not only was he arrested, authorities said, but so were his mother, Nannette Brown, 44, of Cheektowaga, and his brother, Michael Bradley Jr. The home of their father was also searched, but no arrests occurred there.
Mayor Byron W. Brown likened the circumstances that led to the drug raids to the 1991 movie “New Jack City,” based on the crack cocaine epidemic of the mid- to late 1980s in New York City and the battle to take down the drug dealers.
“People were fearful and felt like they had no choice but to tolerate this criminal activity,” Brown said, adding that four years ago he authorized a special police housing unit to work with the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority in targeting guns and drugs.
Dawn E. Sanders-Garrett, the authority’s executive director, said she and her staff cooperated with law enforcement as they prepared for Wednesday’s raids and have been working to deter crime with the installation of surveillance cameras and other measures, such as urging residents to forward information on illegal activities to the police confidential tipline, 847-2255.
“This is a great day for the residents. Safety is what our residents want,” Sanders-Garrett said. “Sometimes we have bad people living here, as we have bad people who live in the rest of the community.”
Footage from the cameras at the Perry projects, undercover surveillance and wiretaps of phone conversations, Hochul said, all contributed to the evidence needed to secure search warrants and indictments.
Others arrested Wednesday included Buffalo residents Darnell “D” Brown, 28; Dallas “Ice” McLamore, 28; Eric Ross, 23; Brandon “YB” Atkins, 26; Tashawn Gay, 22; Melvin “Hoff” Tucker, 23; David Varner, 54; Latifah “LaLa” Donaldson, 21; Tara Robinson, 23; Phayon “Booper” Redmond, 27; Rashawn Pennick, 26, and Jasmin Carson, 19.
Among the gang members from the Fruit Belt who were arrested were Dimone “Pony” Thomas, 26; Shariff Johnson, who also goes by the name of Ahmad Johnson, 33; and Rudell “Rudy” Jackson, 24.