Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson has called the brothers "the worst people in the city as far as violence is concerned." Investigators suspect the brothers are major players in the drug trade and may be involved in February's shooting death of 10-year-old Faheem Thomas-Childs outside T.M. Peirce Elementary School.
The oldest of five children, Jerome Broaster, 30, works in a Pentecostal church because it's the only job he can get, his mother said.
Cassius Broaster, 28, is behind bars, held without bail on federal gun charges. An asthmatic, he was treated at a local hospital after an arrest last year when police officers maced him, his mother said. Both he and his brother have children who go to Peirce.
Yet for all the suspicions swirling, the Broasters have relatively few arrests - and even fewer convictions. Last year, a jury acquitted them of the most serious charges ever brought against them: the slayings of three people inside a North Philadelphia speakeasy in 2002.
A prosecutor said they got off by intimidating witnesses; their lawyers scoffed, saying the case was weak. Earlier this week, a witness in that case, Monica Cherry, filed a lawsuit against the city, police and the District Attorney's Office, claiming they failed to protect her after she agreed to testify in court. Cherry was shot in the head but still told her story at the trial.
The Broaster brothers' mother, Thomasina Broaster, insists police are on a false crusade.
"Everything that goes down, they blame them. They'll be locked up, they still blame them," she said at her Germantown home this week. "The Broasters, the Broasters. Their name is messed up."
Yesterday, Cassius Broaster appeared in federal court, pleading not guilty to being a convicted felon in possession of a gun. His trial is scheduled to start May 24.
As he was led away, he looked at his mother and quickly told her to bring him his "stuff."
"Why they keep going after my kids?" Thomasina Broaster said earlier this week. "They got Joey Merlino out there, the Mafia. Why don't they go after them? What, are they afraid?"
Yes, many people in their neighborhood say, they are afraid - of the Broasters.
"You can't talk about how bad they are," said a man who lives on North 26th Street and said he feared publicly criticizing the brothers. "You know Menace II Society? That's them."
Another man, who gave his name as Mark, said things in the neighborhood "are better when those boys are in jail."
The Broasters grew up on 25th Street, not far from Lehigh Avenue, in a well-worn and now drug-plagued pocket of the city.
The brothers still have family and friends in the area. West Sergeant Street resident Dolly McCall, for example, said she recently organized a weekend ski trip to Connecticut; Cassius Broaster and two female cousins paid the $285 each to come along.
"Half the people on the bus didn't know who he was. He's quiet. I know they got a name out for him, but he's just a kid to me," McCall said. "People get accused of things every day. I follow the news, and when his name comes up, I say, 'My, oh, my God. I don't know where he finds the time to do it.' "
Sitting on a step at 25th and West Sergeant Streets this week, the brothers' uncle, Hasan Abdullah, said they didn't deserve their reputations.
"They treat everybody down here good," he said. "They ain't dangerous."
But as he spoke, his wife walked up. Asked about the Broasters, she looked away.
"I have no comment," she said. "I don't want to die. I'd rather live."
Thomasina Broaster said she was a tough taskmistress when her children - four sons and a daughter - were growing up. Once, she said, when she learned the youngest, Larkeem, had stolen a car, she turned him in to police.
Larkeem, 24, is serving a 10- to 20-year sentence for murder. Elliot, 26, has done time on drug and conspiracy charges.
But the two older sons are the ones with reputations that rival those of the worst marauders.
Jerome Broaster's arrests date to the early 1990s and include drug and weapons charges. In 2002, he was charged with intimidation and retaliation; the charges were dropped because of lack of evidence. The only jail time he ever served - 14 months - came as he waited for the triple-murder case to come to trial.
Cassius Broaster has a lengthier record, including convictions on assault and gun charges. He, too, was jailed for 14 months awaiting the speakeasy trial. Besides the current federal case against him, he faces trial on charges of making terroristic threats, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct in a July incident.
Police said they were responding to a call of shots fired when they saw Broaster and two other men at 25th and Cumberland Streets. Broaster fled, they said, and was captured a short time later. He threatened officers while being handcuffed, they said.
Thomasina Broaster said her son was beaten by police and sprayed with Mace that aggravated his asthma, causing an attack. She said she got a call from a neighbor who saw the beating.
"She said, 'Get over here, baby. They're beating your son down,' " she said.
The charges in the federal case stem from an Oct. 25 arrest during a traffic stop. Police said Broaster had a gun in his car. He was charged with carrying a firearm without a license, carrying firearms in a public street, and possession of firearms by a convicted felon, and was released on $5,000 bail.
In February, when Broaster missed his second court date, a warrant was issued for his arrest. A manhunt began, one Thomasina Broaster said was unnecessary.
"How many people miss court? Why you got to put it on the news 'armed and dangerous'? I've never seen nothing like it," she said.
Faheem Thomas-Childs was almost inside the school yard at Peirce Elementary School on Feb. 11 when bullets began raining down around him. Almost 100 shots were fired in a brazen shoot-out between two groups of men that morning. Faheem, who was shot in the head, died five days later. A crossing guard was shot in the foot.
Afterward, civic leaders tried to rally the community, urging witnesses to come forward and tell all. The reward for suspects topped $100,000 before two men were arrested. One has said Cassius Broaster instigated the gunfight.
Brian McMonagle, who represented Cassius Broaster in the triple murder, said his client has "steadfastly denied" being at Peirce. Sources close to the investigation said Cassius Broaster's girlfriend told investigators that his car was shot up at the scene because she was there dropping off their son.
"It's all a setup," Thomasina Broaster said. "It was a setup before, just like now."
She was referring to the February 2002 incident in which three people were killed and five injured at an illegal after-hours club in North Philadelphia. One of the dead men, Daniel Tull, was a cousin of the Broaster brothers'.
After a $5,000 reward was offered, the Broasters were identified as the shooters. One of the key witnesses against them was an admitted drug dealer who struck a deal with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony. A jury cleared the brothers after a three-day trial.
Another of those witnesses was Cherry, the woman who filed suit this week. Her lawyer did not return calls seeking additional comment.
Cherry, 23, was shot from behind as she walked the neighborhood's streets a month after the speakeasy killings.
No one has been arrested for that.
Contact staff writer Natalie Pompilio at 215-854-2813 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Thomas J. Gibbons Jr., Thomas Ginsberg and Joseph A. Slobodzian.