Volume 75, Number 19 | Sep. 28 - Oct. 04, 2005

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Outside Mission nightclub on the Bowery last Friday night.

Hip-hop night turns deadly; club violence racks Bowery

By Lincoln Anderson

Police are looking for suspects in the Wed. Sept. 21 shooting that started as an argument over a spilled drink in the Mission nightclub at the Bowery and Rivington St. and ended on the sidewalk across the Bowery from the club at 4:12 a.m. with one man wounded and another man dead.

Thomas McKinney, 24, of 190 Forsyth St., was declared dead at the scene with a bullet wound in the head. The other victim — a homeless man who was sleeping in front of the Common Ground transitional homeless shelter at 220 Bowery — was taken to Bellevue Hospital in stable condition with a bullet wound in his ankle. He was not identified by police. There were no arrests as of Tuesday evening, Sept. 27.

Speaking last Saturday, a manager at the club who was working the night of the murder, who requested anonymity, said he believes the killer had not been inside the club, which had closed and put its gate down a few minutes before the shooting. He said he had seen a man in a gray T-shirt on the corner across Rivington St. at the Bowery who kept biking back and forth down Rivington and returning to the corner. He claims witnesses said this man biked over and shot the victim. The manager said police took security camera videotapes from the Off Soho Suites Hotel on Rivington St. that may show this man.

Asked about the drink spilling that police say precipitated the deadly violence, he said, “There might have been something between some girls earlier in the night and then they called their friends.” Asked to describe the man he claims to have been watching on the bike, he said, “He looked Latino — it’s hard to tell.”

Police, however, didn’t provide any updates to their initial report.

The manager said Mission won’t be offering the Tuesday night party anymore that preceded the fatal shooting. He said the club hosts a lot of private parties, but that this was a little looser with a more relaxed dress code. He said they won’t be having hip-hop parties where the patrons wear football jerseys or baseball caps, do-rags or bandanas anymore.

Last Saturday night, the evening at Mission started out with a well-heeled private party for a gospel singer named Lee. Some stylishly dressed women going to the party could be seen bringing in gourmet food in Citarella bags. Later on, the bass could be heard pumping a bit louder from inside the club and a younger crowd started coming in and the decibel level on the sidewalk rose a bit too.

Villager photo by Clayton Patterson

The memorial mural by Chico for Thomas McKinney at the Burkina hip-hop store at 177 E. Houston St.

Two women who live near Mission, who also requested anonymity, said they had been expecting a serious incident to occur. “I’ve seen people in limos waving guns around,” said the first woman. The second woman said that just the previous Thursday there had been a wild fight between three groups on the sidewalk in front of the club that went on for about 10 minutes without the bouncers intervening. She said neighbors finally had to call the police to the scene to get things under control. “It’s become a playground for gangster rapper wannabes,” the second woman said. “Will it take some rich N.Y.U. kid getting shot at the Pioneer Bar [across the street] before someone does something?”

The club’s manager, who said he’s on duty every night, claimed no recollection of the fight.

Right after last Wednesday’s shooting, the second woman reported seeing a man in a white T-shirt running up the Bowery and two black S.U.V.’s at the corner peel off in the other direction. She assumed the fleeing man in the white T-shirt was the shooter. But Mission’s manager doesn’t agree with them and noted there are a lot of reasons why people would run if shots are fired.

The women said every night at Mission isn’t terrifically loud, but some are, and on those nights S.U.V.’s sometimes park and play booming music. They say police told them that at nearby BLVD club the bouncers wear bulletproof vests.

“Where are our bulletproof vests?” they asked almost in unison.

However, at BLVD, the bouncers said they don’t wear protective vests, noting the club “doesn’t attract that kind of crowd.”

The second woman said she’s praying for the New Museum of Contemporary Art to hurry up and build its new building just up the Bowery on the site of an open-air parking lot, as she feels this will improve the area.

“That’ll bring the restaurants,” she said.

And the nearby 12-story Salvation Army Chinatown Corps building is also on the block, and will probably be converted into private apartments, she said, adding it’s another development she supports. Gentrification is the only thing that can help save the area from the clubs, she feels.

When it was just a skid row, they felt safer, they said.

“The bums had that reputation,” said the second woman. “It was just a little deserted. But the bums were clueless — they’d faint right in front of you.”

Others also are just trying to exist peacefully and quietly. Nick, 29, a resident of the Common Ground transitional homeless shelter, said he’d heard the two gun shots under his window the night of the killing.

“I knew what I’d heard. I grew up in Pennsylvania. My family — my father, my brother — all had guns,” he said. He came to New York in 2001 and had “a whole lot of bad luck” after that. But he’s turning his life around. On Friday and Saturday nights, he’s up in his room staying out of trouble.

Thomas McKinney, the 24-year-old victim, also tried to stay out of trouble, said Ahmed Sakhara, 35, his boss at Burkina hip-hop mix tapes and T-shirts store on E. Houston St. Last Saturday night, Sakhara, who is from Burkina Faso, was wearing a T-shirt with a photo of McKinney and a large “R.I.P.” on it. He had commissioned local graffiti artist Chico to paint a memorial mural of McKinney on the store’s metal roll-down gate.

“Really quiet kid, he doesn’t bother nobody, mind his own business,” was how Sakhara described McKinney. McKinney had done a few years in jail for weapons possession but after he got out kept asking Sakhara for a job. He turned out to be a model employee, Sakhara said. He said McKinney never hung out in front of the store or had his friends come around and that he didn’t hang out with a bad element. While other young men his age might not even have a job, McKinney had one — and aspired to own his own sneaker shop, he said. Sakhara tried to be a role model to him.

“I still don’t understand how someone could shoot someone over a drink. And he’s not even someone who talks too much — or runs his mouth,” Sakhara said sadly. “You have to be crazy. This is senseless. This is senseless.”

Friends and acquaintances were angry that the Post had reported that McKinney, who also was known as T. Mack and Sekou, had been arrested 11 times.

On Sunday, outside 190 Forsyth St., the low-rise public housing development where he lived, a brother and sister from Avenue D stopped to add another candle to the sidewalk memorial of candles, balloons, cognac bottles and a blue stuffed bunny rabbit doll.

Shawn Gomez, 20, said it was true that McKinney pretty much kept to himself,

“He had friends. But he wasn’t a troublemaker or anything,” he said. “He’s an everyday, typical kid living life.”

His sister, who was wearing one of the new trendy “Stop Snitching” T-shirts, turned a votive candle upside down and lit it with a lighter then set it down softly with the rest. She bent down, put her hands on her knees and gazed silently for a while at the shrine.

She said she’d gone to junior high school, J.H. 56, with him.

“Just come to pay my respects,” she said. “He was a quiet gentleman.”

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