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Some say it was 50 Cent before 50 Cent. Some called him “the Robin Hood of the Ghetto,” while the establishment nicknamed him “the crack city terminator.” But only a few scholars know why Larry Davis’s name continues to resonate 35 years after one night in November 1986.

A surreal manhunt 

On that date in 1986, Larry Davis was engaged in a shootout with more than 25 New York City police officers prosecuting him for an alleged murder. The 1986 shooting began after police came to an apartment to arrest Davis for the murder of five drug traffickers. Davis escaped unharmed through a window, triggering a 17-day manhunt in which hundreds of police participated. He was finally found in an HLM housing estate where one of his sisters lived.

Acquitted by the court

During Davis’ trial, his lawyers accused the police of wanting to kill him because he knew they were corrupt, and said he acted in self-defense. A jury acquitted him of attempted murder and aggravated assault, marking the only time in US history that an individual has been acquitted for shooting a police officer. 

Between the hero and the outcast: A double posture

Davis’ shooting and escape from the law made him a popular hero for some, and a symbol of outrage for others, including the police. But in the hood, his action is seen as the only possible response to a growing epidemic of police brutality. Some legends from French Montana to Lloyd Banks to Jay-Z have cited him in their tracks and BET felt he was so important to American culture that they started the American Gangster series with him. 

Killed later

According to a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Prisons, Davis was fatally injured on February 20, 2008 around 7:30 p.m. local time during a recreational break at Shawangunk Prison. Davis, then 41, was serving a 25-year sentence for murder in a case unrelated to the police shooting. According to reports, he was repeatedly stabbed with a homemade metal blade in his arms, head, back, leg and chest. 

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