Life Magazine has posted a 1972 photo essay about a South Bronx street gang, The Reapers. You can see the entire thing here.
Eddie Cuevas, 20 years old, is the tough president (“Prez) of a tough 200-member Bronx street gang called the Reapers. He has been a Reaper since he was barely into his teens. The Reapers were then declining, losing strength steadily to the more glamorous incoming drug culture. But the street gangs have come back in New York and other major cities. They are larger and more dangerous than before, but now drugs are out. “I saw what they did — lots of guys ripped off, string out or dead,” says Eddie.
In the Bronx alone there are over 100 street gangs … Gangs still argue perpetually, fight often and even occasionally kill over such matters as prestige and “colors,” the sleeveless denim jackets bearing the gang’s name and symbol … “Gangs like the Reapers are good and bad,” says a Bronx patrolman on he beat. “One night they’ll spend two hours helping us look for a rapist, the next they’re out to beat up some civilians.”