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Inside a Buffalo street gang: Tattoos, music, 'fighters' and 'shooters'

Speaking in a whisper at times, his voice absent of any emotion, Raekwon Green spent two days in federal court in Buffalo reluctantly talking about his experiences as a gang member.

He spoke about the shootings and murders that came to define the CBL/BFL and how each act of violence enhanced a member's status within the gang.

He also talked about the clothes, music and tattoos paying homage to a gang that thrived on the sale of heroin, fentanyl and crack cocaine and operated out of Towne Gardens Apartments just blocks from downtown.

With a jury of 12 men and women listening, Green took them through the various roles played by CBL/BFL members in what amounted to a primer on Buffalo's street gangs.

At one point, Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth T. Molisani read from a list of more than a dozen gang members and asked Green to spell out each member's job.

One by one, he went down the list.

"He was a shooter," Green would say when asked a name, or, "he was a fighter."

The Towne Gardens apartment complex on Clinton Street in Buffalo.

When Molisani got to Dalvon Curry, the accused gang member on trial for two murders, Green didn't pause.

"He was a shooter and a rapper," he said.

Curry is a prominent figure in a series of rap music videos that are evidence in the case, and his defense lawyer acknowledges his client's dreams of  "blowing up," the term for making it big.

For the first time since the double murder trial began, jurors were given a glimpse inside the gang that started out small but over the years grew into a violent organization known for its rivalries with other street gangs.

Through Green's testimony, the jury heard about rivalries with the Pretty Boys, Central Park, Fruit Belt and other gangs and how the back-and-forth retaliation led to shootings and murders.

"Did members of the CBL/BFL celebrate the death of rival gang members?" Molisani asked at one point.

"Yes," Green answered.

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During his testimony, he recounted a number of shootings, but he also talked about the gang's culture, everything from language to tattoos.

Even though he left the gang, Green still has a "BFL" tattoo big enough to stretch across his entire stomach.

With Molisani feeding him gang slang – words such as pole, opp and slide – Green translated for the jury. A pole is a gun and an opp is a rival gang member, he told them.

To slide, he said, is to travel through a rival gang's turf and commit a shooting.

Even more important than his blueprint of how the gang operated, Green testified about the killing of Jaquan Sullivan and what the CBL/BFL member accused of shooting him said about the December 2015 murder of their rival.

Green claims that Curry, during a conversation they had shortly after the murder, admitted shooting Sullivan. Curry, he said, spoke about the Hi-Point handgun he was carrying that night and its reputation for jamming.

"He said when he needed it most, it didn't jam," Green told the jury.

Curry, who has maintained his innocence from Day One, sat just a few feet away but showed little emotion during Green's two days of testimony.

During his cross-examination, defense lawyer Kevin W. Spitler questioned Green about a number of shootings and fights he was involved with, each time asking him if Curry was also there.

And each time, Green said no.

Spitler also challenged Green's credibility as a witness and pointed to a cooperation agreement with prosecutors that, despite the criminal charges against him, could keep him out of prison.

"You only care about yourself," he told Green at one point. "You knew the government wanted to hear that my client committed those two murders."

Later, outside the courtroom, defense lawyer Andrew D. Brautigam defended his client's decision to testify against Curry.

"He's doing the right thing," Brautigam said, "and he's getting a second chance."

In addition to the fatal shooting of Sullivan, Curry is also charged with the murder of Xavier Wimes on New Year's Day two years ago.

Green was in custody at the time of Wimes' killing, but he said a fellow gang member who owned the gun Curry used that night later recounted for him what happened.

He said it was Curry who shot and killed Wimes, who was angry with Curry.

The murder charges are part of a grand jury indictment that led to the prosecution of 13 gang members and Curry's current trial before U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo.

[Related: Federal indictment details alleged gang feuding near Towne Gardens]

The government's prosecution, which is led by Molisani and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul C. Parisi and Christopher O. Taylor, stems from an investigation by the FBI and Buffalo police.

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