Floyd Tally was looking for a family.
He was only 16 when his mother died in 1986, leaving him as the surviving name on their lease in Back Maryland’s subsidized housing.
There were people who cared about him, though. At least that’s what he thought. Drug deals brought in money, and guns kept them safe.
They called themselves the Abdullahs, although Tally will no longer use that title. Taken from Islam — as were their rivals, the Salaams — they had nothing to do with religion, he says. Or family.
“That’s false love,” he says now.
The Abdullahs and Salaams may be gone, but the gangs continue in Atlantic City, and are even more dangerous, experts say.
More than half of the city’s violence can be tied to Back Maryland gangs “800 Blok” and rival “Dirty Blok”, based in Stanley Holmes Village, Carver Hall and Schoolhouse Apartments, says city Detective Lonell Jones.
Dozens of alleged members and associates of those groups were arrested in separate raids within a two-month span this spring. Both investigations were bolstered by the inside knowledge of the city's Vice and Intelligence units. The charges range from heroin distribution to murder.
“These kids (are) killing at an alarming rate,” says Tally, now 43. “And they’re meaning to kill.”
Tally was observing what's going on in his hometown from a prison cell since 2009, when he was convicted in a conspiracy to blackmail an Atlantic City councilman; he was released in July. He’s read about a cousin lost to the city’s violence and listened as young cellmates cry over their lost freedom — but not for the victims of their violence.
“When I was growing up, there was a lot of professional leg shooters,” he says. “Now you have professional head shooters. These kids are meaning to take a life.”
There are eight known gangs in Atlantic City, Jones says. Bloods and Crips are a part of it, but most are named for the area they come from, and many fight the term “gang.” It's about neighborhoods.
"They aren't gangs," says Rashad Floyd, 31, who grew up in Stanley Holmes’ third village, across from what is now the All War's Memorial Building.
Now working to make a name for himself in the music industry as RushLife, he says the names Dirty Blok and 800 Blok are neighborhood rap groups. The gangs moniker is put on them by outsiders, he says.
"They were a gang first, then tried the rap thing," Jones says later.
The detective grew up in the city's since-razed Pitney Village and has been investigating the gangs here for more than a decade. Driving through the city, he and Vice Lt. James Sarkos point out the territories.
Crips are here, Jones explains, as the car nears McKinley and Tennessee avenues. Dirty Blok crime family originally formed when the Crips said they couldn't use the name, he explains.
Along Texas Avenue, 13s can be seen spray-painted on buildings, the mark of the Surenos 13. Many of the Mexican gang members are here illegally, meaning immigration — rather than an in-depth investigation — can take them off the streets.
Downtown and Chelsea Heights have some Latin Kings.
Stanley Holmes is Dirty Blok's hub, although their drug deals are often done elsewhere, since they know police are watching the complex’s three villages.
Then the car reaches the 800 block of North Maryland Avenue, where both Back Maryland and 800 Blok get their names.
“These guys are very loyal to each other,” Jones says.
A Dirty Blok member knows to steer clear of this area, and the nearby High Gate.
Jones recalls pulling over a car driven by a Back Maryland girl. Lying down in the back seat was her boyfriend, who lived in Stanley Holmes. Just being seen in the area would have been too much of a risk, so he hid.
Tally understands the reasoning: If someone from a rival area comes into the neighborhood, the belief is he's looking to hurt someone.
“It's really where you grew up at,” he says. “It's not really a pick-and-choose thing.”
That carries a different meaning in jail.
“A lot of the time, they join forces in jail and protect each other,” Sarkos says of the rival Atlantic City gangs. There is no Dirty Blok and 800 Blok, only Atlantic City. That is, until they’re back on the street.
Clothing often identifies their loyalties.
Jones and Sarkos arrive at a Back Maryland development where a caller reported there was a gun found under a mat, when a group catches Jones' eye. One of them has a shirt with LBFR, or Loyalty Brings Forth Royalty. Another says BBGM for Back Blok Goon Mob. Both represent 800 Blok.
“Isn't Eric Teasley still wanted?” Jones asks, working his phone.
He confirms Teasley was one of those not yet arrested in the 800 Blok raid. Now, he's in this group of about five young men walking from the scene.
Sarkos drives out of the complex at Jones' direction, and into the next development where the group stands talking. The seasoned gangs officer is nearly invisible through the heavily tinted back windows of the private car.
In the driver's seat, Sarkos rolls down his window, starting a conversation about the gun.
“It was just right there,” one of the men says.
“Yeah, crazy, stupid,” Sarkos replies.
As Sarkos drives away, Jones says: “If he knew I was in here, he'd run.”
Possibly sensing he had been identified, Teasley took off a blue shirt he was wearing as he kept walking. But Jones' information leads uniformed officers to Teasley, who is arrested without a problem.
Jones has seen those as young as 12 join one of the city's gangs. Some do it for protection. Others because they had family in it. Often, it’s sparked by fear and intimidation.
It's an “if you're not with us, you're against us” mentality. Beatings can get you in, as can committing crimes. Women are used to help hide the illegal activities.
Rashada Allencq let Dirty Blok use her public housing unit at Stanley Holmes as a “trap house,” to store and distribute heroin, according to the federal complaint. She was paid in drug money while living with her mother nearby.
“It's unreal how they use these women,” Jones says.
They are the “facilitators,” giving not only their homes to the cause, but renting cars, stashing guns and even testing the quality of the product. Dirty Blok customers are particular about their brand of heroin, identified by a stamp, the complaint says.
The drug sales have gone beyond Atlantic City, with Ocean County officials estimating about 40 percent of the product there coming from Atlantic County, much of it Atlantic City.
Rasan McGee, an alleged 800 Blok member, was indicted in the fatal overdose of a 26-year-old Stafford Township man. Allegedly the victim's dealer, McGee is charged with manslaughter and causing a drug-induced death. He remains wanted.
Drugs — the main business of gangs — won't just go away, Tally warns.
“You can't tell a kid, 'Stop selling drugs' and not have anything in place for them,” he says. “They're making thousands of dollars a week dealing.”
The federal complaint shows that the leadership had no legal employment, despite having the money to buy guns and drugs, rent cars and change phones whenever they thought police may be on to them.
A loose hierarchy keeps that business running, the complaint explains. Couriers take money to suppliers and bring the drugs to the leaders for distribution. Enforcers are there to carry out acts of violence, if necessary. At the bottom are the junior members — or “youngins” — who will do whatever is asked by the leaders or enforcers: from selling drugs to getting weapons and even using them.
“Drugs and guns go hand in hand,” Tally says. “If you’re involved in drugs, you know violence comes with that.”
At 21, Tally was charged with five counts of aggravated assault for biking by a parked car and shooting at five men inside. One was injured. He pleaded guilty, and got four years' probation.
As that time ran out, he was arrested again. This time in a gang raid. Tally was one of 18 accused of dealing cocaine and heroin.
"The Abduallahs have been eradicated," then-Mayor James Whelan said during a press conference at that time.
Not all members and associates were arrested in the most recent case. And police know that means they must remain on the lookout.
“They'll start right up after the roundup,” Sarkos says. “The next day.”
Only now, those left behind may be younger and more reckless as they try to prove themselves in a gang that has lost its leadership.
Alleged Dirty Blok leader Mykal Derry expressed concerns about the careless nature of some younger associates, according to the federal complaint.
After a Christmas Eve fight with rivals, intercepted conversations between Derry and accused enforcer Shaamel Spencer showed he was mad about the lack of handguns brought to the scene and that the assault was physical instead of an ambush that could have taken their rivals down.
“Y’all niggas movin’ off emotions man,” Derry says, telling Spencer of what he said to a younger member.
With Derry jailed, alleged associate Austin Clark, 19, is accused of a carjacking and shooting spree June 22, in retaliation for those who may have identified him in a shooting two weeks earlier inside the victim's car.
SWAT members arrested him after five hours and six shooting incidents that injured two people. A third man was pistol-whipped at Schoolhouse Apartments.
“A Dirty Blok associate trying to make a name for himself,” Jones says of Clark.
He knows the players well, and the players know him
“Bro watch yourself 'cause Steve and Lonell, they in the park, you heard,” Derry tells an alleged drug dealer in an Oct. 19 call intercepted by federal wire taps.
Jones and Detective Steve Palamaro were in Brown’s Park that day. Jones can’t say what they were doing. Only that it will come out in court.
A few days earlier, Derry texted associate Tyrone Ellis: “Soon this nigg warner n his crew fall bak ima cum holla at u.”
Then, a few minutes later: “Man this nigga n dabney been out here since like 7 no bs non stop circling I think these niggaz rattn on the low ever since they came out wit that u can text the police shit (expletive) is goin ham.”
Derry is likely talking about people giving information to police through tip411, a way to text information anonymously. The two names mentioned are Detectives William Warner and Daryl Dabney. They are so well known, there was a Facebook page for a time under the name “Warner Dabney” in which members shared pictures of “Ratz.”
Anthony Rosario was one of those pictured. He was the victim in an Oct. 30, 2010, kidnapping and assault. That next April, he was shot in the spine and paralyzed.
Those charged in it were allegedly Dirty Blok members.
But that information won't be released to the public. Aside from the recent raids, officials don't announce gang affiliations when violence happens, although the distinctions are usually seen in reports available only to law enforcement.
The information's release won't aid an investigation, acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain explains, and it can actually put a gang on alert that they are being watched.
Plus, calling a victim a gang member can be insulting to the family, especially with only suspicion to support it.
“(The violence) may not be for a gang-related reason simply, because the victim was affiliated with a gang,” McClain says.
“There's internal fighting and external fighting,” Tally explains.
For Jose Ortiz, there was no fight. The 59-year-old man had no gang affiliations, but is believed to have been a victim of the violence.
At about 3 p.m. Sept. 6, he biked away from his mother's Stanley Holmes Village apartment, and straight into the cross-fire of an alleged gunfight between Dirty Blok and 800 Blok members.
“(The gang members) couldn't care less about that,” Jones says. “That's just how heartless they are.”
Tally also knows they don't really care about one another.
He didn't find the real love of family in the gang. And now, he sees the lies continue even when the members wind up in prison. He's shared cells with young killers crying over their lost freedom.
“You killed somebody, do you realize that?” Tally recalls asking one. “This happened to you because you made it happen to you.”
But then, he's heard the phone conversations, as the crying kid takes on the persona of the boastful, uncaring felon.
“'I'm here doing my time. I'm doing what I have to do,'” Tally says, recalling a conversation. “Man, you got to go out there and do what you've got to do.”
On the other end of the line is often a young man who now thinks, “he was a real guy," Tally says. "I got to be like him.”
The "false love" continues. And so does the violence.
Contact Lynda Cohen:
Follow Lynda Cohen on Twitter @LyndaCohen