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The REAL Warriors: Captivating pictures of the 70s Bronx ‘Reapers’

 

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Forty years ago, The Reapers were known as a blessing and a curse - similar to the street gangs that populated the fictional world of the popular film The Warriors.

LIFE photographer John Shearer embedded himself within the South Bronx gang and photographed their daily life, providing an unprecedented window to their world of poverty, brotherhood and lawlessness.

Published in 1972, the photo essay focused on Eddie Ceuvas, the 20-year-old president of the 200 strong gang and their tumultuous relationship with their neighborhood, sometimes keeping order on the streets and other times, committing crimes of their own.Fight:

Fight: Fourty years ago, The Reapers were known as a blessing and a curse, a South Bronx street gang that would sometimes keep order on the streets and other times, commit crimes of their own. Eddie Cuevas from The Reapers discussing with another gang called the ‘Javelins’ about cleaning up the neighborhood, Bronx, New York, 1972

vStruggle:

Struggle: LIFE photographer John Shearer embedded himself within the notorious gang and photographed their daily life, providing an unprecedented window to their world of poverty, brotherhood and lawlessness. The Reapers are pictured cleaning up a lot in the Bronx, New York, 1972

President:

President: Published in 1972, the photo essay focused on Eddie Ceuvas, the 20-year-old president of the 200 strong gang and their tumultuous relationship with their neighborhood. Cuevas is pictured talking to other gangs about not retaliating and keeping peace, Bronx, New York City, 1972

‘I visited the neighborhood five or six times, without my camera,’ Mr Shearer recently told LIFE.com, ‘just so I could get a feel for that part of the South Bronx. A few times I was approached by Reapers asking me what I was dong there, but largely I was left alone.’

Eventually, he met Eddie Ceuvas and was allowed to photograph the group of young men, who, strangely enough, banned drugs from the gang.

‘I saw what they did — lots of guys ripped off, string out or dead,’ Mr Ceuvas said to LIFE.

At the time, there were more than 100 street gangs on the city streets and their numbers were rapidly declining.

‘Gangs like the Reapers are good and bad,’ said a Bronx patrolman on he beat in 1972.

‘One night they’ll spend two hours helping us look for a rapist, the next they’re out to beat up some civilians.’

Leader

 The Warriors: At the time, there were more than 100 street gangs on the city streets and their numbers were rapidly declining. Eddie Cuevas, who designed the group’s ‘colors’, is pictured at right standing with his gang members while at left, the cast of The Warriors is seen

the warriors

 Organized: Leader Eddie Cuevas is pictured talking to The Reapers and telling them to calm down and not retaliate for the actions of a rival gang, Bronx, New York, 1972

Organized Mr Ceuvas was arrested for homicide by the end of essay, but eventually beat the charges.

‘Eddie fancied himself something of an artist,’ Mr Shearer recalled. ‘He’d designed the Reapers’ colors.’

He said that despite the extended time they spent together, he and the crew drifted apart, that is, until a few years ago when the Reapers began getting in touch with him.

The gang planned a reunion a few years back, but he was unable to make it.

‘I really would have liked to have been there,’ he said, ‘but it just didn’t happen that day. Maybe some other time.’

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