Newsletter: Who makes the rules in your neighborhood?

August 25, 2015

8/25 Episode: BLOCK BOSS


On every city block, there are rules. Some are unspoken, some require friendly reminders, some are enforced by the law. There are people who take it upon themselves to make sure neighborhood rules are followed. Are there ever circumstances where it’s OK to break rules in order to prevent others from breaking the rules?

This week, we revisit BLOCK BOSS, a Life of the Law episode first aired in January of 2013. Reporter Kaitlin Prest investigated what happens when people take the law into their own hands.

“Cops have to run by all these laws, gathering evidence and all that I mean. I don’t have to. That’s it. I don’t have to,” said Henry Rivera, a ‘Block Boss.’

Take a listen here, and read Kaitlin’s update on the story, below.


Reporter Update: Kaitlin Prest

The idea for the block boss story came while sitting on the cement floor outside of my dingy loft apartment. My neighbor’s girlfriend was smoking too and talking about how her “block boss” had just been arrested. I had just started working on Life of the Law, and we were planning to do a series called “Law on One Block.” So I had an ulterior motive when I asked: “What is a block boss?”

She told me she and her roommates were the only middle-class white kids on the block in the neighborhood where she lived. Soon after they moved in, a man arrived on their doorstep and explained to them how things worked on the block. He said he’d make sure they didn’t get mugged if they cooperated with him. So from time to time, they would lend him their bike for him to the things he needed to do. She explained that after he got arrested, two of her roommates were mugged within the week.

None of what they said was fact checked, so for all I know, it could have been a total yarn. But their story peaked my curiosity about the concept of a “block boss” as someone who protects a neighborhood’s residents, but might run afoul of the law to do so. After a few weeks of hunting, I found Harry.

Nowadays, he’s often traveling back and forth from Brooklyn to Philly. I had to take a bus to Philly to accommodate his busy schedule. I met him at the local university, where an apprentice of his goes to school. He seemed like a good guy, with a strong sense of right and wrong. But when he started telling me stories of the neighborhood back in the day, it became clear that he could get really violent about it. You’ll hear the moment that I question him on this in the piece. A scary moment. Would I want Harry living beside me? Sure. As long as I’m on his good side.



Clemmie banner photo

Anyone who’s met Clemmie Greenlee has witnessed her beauty, her fearlessness, and her immense kindness.

In 2009, Clemmie Greenlee was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship, to create a community center in Nashville that would help young men involved in gang activity get an education and find jobs. For Clemmie, it has been a way to help end the violence that led to her only son being shot and killed.

On a recent summer night, Clemmie stood before an audience of Soros Fellows and, in her own words, shared the story of her life and the societal odds that were stacked against her from the very beginning. “I was born a girl, I was born black, and I was born,” she said, “to two alcoholic parents. I knew I was doomed.”

Listen to her LIVE LAW story here.


What We’re Reading: New York Magazine’s Slender Man is Watching

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For the past few months, the faces of these young girls have been linked to a grisly attempted murder. They are accused of stabbing another young girl after a sleepover, leaving her dangerously close to death in the backcountry woods behind their homes. Some say that the girls must suffer from mental illness. Others point to lists the girls made to plan the attack as signs of cold and callous premeditation.

Regardless, the girls have spoken themselves about what they did. They said Slender Man sent them to stab their friend to death.

What, or who, is Slender Man?

In this piece from New York Magazine, writer Lisa Miller explains the mythical figure and how it became an obsession for the girls. Where it comes from, who supports it, and what it’s become since the killing are all queries of interest.


Stay tuned for next week’s LIVE LAW story: Family Watch


Justice is incidental to law and order. – John Edgar Hoover