Less than four blocks from my house, located in a sedate and established neighborhood, stands a community of affordable garden apartments. There, in June of 2005, an elderly couple was mugged by a group of young Latino males. The attackers' description fits that of gang members.
The robbery of that elderly couple did not receive much publicity. In fact, only we locals knew the sketchy information as the newspaper didn't give the attack anything beyond a brief mention. We locals have no doubt, however, that the attack was indeed gang-related.
For a few years, all of us in my neighborhood have seen gang graffiti on the sides of buildings and on the bike paths, as well as on the interstate overpasses and underpasses which crisscross this portion of our county. We have also noticed the occasional pair of running shoes dangling from the overhead telephone lines. Only recently did I know that such dangling shoes can be a sign of gang activity--a bit of information I mentally filed away for later use.
Within the last few weeks, attacks by gang members have become material for headlines. And as I suspected, at least some of these gang members are illegal immigrants.
In the Sunday, August 14, 2005 edition of the Washington Post
, above the fold appeared the headline "Anti-Gang Strategies Lack Unity: Regional Data Urged as Threat Rises
." The article begins as follows:
"Six months after he served more than a year in jail for disposing of a body in a gang-related killing in Montgomery County, Nelson Bernal was back on the streets, lying in wait outside a county high school-- preparing, police say, to attack members of a rival Latino gang.Now
"Police say he stabbed David Gamero in the head, chest and abdomen and Juan Quito Jr. in the lower back in the parking lot of Springbrook High School on Aug. 5. According to a county prosecutor, the attackers shouted, 'Mara Salvatrucha!'
"Bernal, 24, is back in jail, along with seven other suspects in the high school stabbing, and immigration authorities said they plan to deport him. They didn't take that step in 2004, when local officials alerted them that he was a convicted felon and in this country illegally.
"Bernal, an El Salvador native, lived and committed crimes in Maryland and Virginia....
"Bernal's case shows that gang members can slip through the hands of law enforcers. 'In 2004,' [Montgomery State's Attorney] Gansler said, 'federal immigration officials were notified that [Bernal] was an illegal alien who had been convicted of a felony. Federal agencies informed local authorities that he was going to be deported. Clearly he was not.'
"Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Dean Boyd, informed about Gansler's assertion late Friday, said, 'There is no way I can verify or disprove the allegation.' He added, however, that the division routinely detains and deports illegal immigrants who violate the law.
"He said that since Bernal's arrest last week on attempted murder and other charges, federal authorities have filed an immigration detainer for Bernal and plan to deport him after his legal proceedings in Maryland are completed."
the federal authorities plan to deport Bernal? After
his legal proceedings for the recent charges? What wasn't he deported during that one-year stint in jail--a stint at the taxpayers' expense?
The Washington Post article
concludes with these words:
"In the sweltering heat of the construction site, Bernal, also known as Alfredo Sanchez, occasionally would take off his T-shirt to cool down. That's when Francisco Rodriguez saw the letters tattooed across his stomach: 'MS.'
"During the last few years that Sanchez worked for Rodriguez framing houses, that was all the boss knew of his employee's affiliation with Mara Salvatrucha. Sanchez never talked about his gang life, Rodriguez said, or about much else in his private life.
"'He was quiet; he didn't talk much. He worked hard,' said Rodriguez, 38, of Hyattsville. 'He was never disrespectful to me or anyone else who worked here.'"
How wonderful that Bernal was cooperative on the job! Perhaps he did not want his employer to check on his immigration status. But elsewhere Bernal was more than uncooperative. Remember how the Washington Post
article began? Bernal has a conviction for the illegal disposal of a human body. And if recent reports are correct, he also has a penchant for wielding a knife.
From the same edition of the Washington Post
come these figures from a few jurisdictions in the D.C. area:
"Alexandria [city in Virginia]: Twenty gang crimes reported from January 2004 through July 31 . The offenses have been felonious assaults...
"Arlington [county in Virginia]: In 2004, there are 200 gang-related criminal incidents, the majority of which were thefts and destruction of property, followed by assaults, woudings and cuttings. Through June , there were 91 gang-related incidents.
"Fairfax [county in Virginia]: 316 gang-related crimes in 2002; 595 gang-related crimes in 2003.
"Montgomery [county in Maryland, where Bernal was arrested]: 314 [gang-related crimes] in 2004; 122 for the first half of 2005."
Statistics are unavailable for Washington, D.C. I guess that the D.C. statisticians are busy tabulating their data.
I have a bit of personal experience with gang activity in my neighborhood. In the mid-1990's, my neighbor's son, as evidenced by bandanas and other garb, became involved in a gang, though not a Latino one. My husband and I had to put up with goings-on such as nuisance vandalism, petty thefts, liquor bottles strewn along our property line, drug deals on the street corner and outside our bedroom window, and a bullet's puncturing the headlight of my show-quality, candy-apple-red 1985 Chrysler Fifth Avenue. That last caused me to arm myself on a daily basis, just to walk back and forth from my house to my vehicle.
When my neighbor's son, whom I have known since the day he was born, finally decided that gang life wasn't the lifestyle he wanted--the turning point was witnessing the gang murder of one of his best friends at the local high school during the course of the school day--he turned in some of his gang buddies to the police. He was whisked away to a safe house, and police patrols became a regular presence on my street until the case came to trial. My neighbor's son, now an adult, has since been in trouble with law enforcement, but as far as I know, he's free of participating in the gang scene which now plagues even middle-class and elite developments.
From what I have read in the daily newspapers and have heard on the evening news, problems with gangs, primarily MS-13 and the South Side Locos, affect communities all across our nation, with some areas having more problems than others. How long before someone you
know gets hurt or murdered, or is otherwise impacted?
According to this D.C.'s Channel 9
"There are an estimated ten-thousand [MS-13 gang] members in the U.S. many in the Washington suburbs."
Ten thousand? In just the D.C. suburbs? What an astouding number!
The week of August 22, the Washington Times
reported that federal authorities have made numerous gang-related arrests
in the D.C. metro area:
"Early morning police raids yesterday in Silver Spring and parts of Prince George's County netted nine of the 19 MS-13 members who have been indicted in the most serious federal crackdown on the street gang to date.
"The case marks the first known time that the federal government has prosecuted members of MS-13 for being part of a criminal organization, using a law that was created to break up the Mafia.
"'MS-13 is an organized crime gang group," said Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. attorney for Maryland....
"At least seven of the MS-13 members are thought to be illegal aliens, because they did not have Social Security numbers, a law-enforcement official said. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials placed detainers on at least three of the gang members so that if they are ever released they will be deported.
"ICE took 14 illegal aliens who were associates of the gang members into custody during the raids yesterday and began the deportation process.
"The youngest gang member was 18, and a law-enforcement official said most of the gang members indicted were in leadership positions within MS-13 in Maryland.
"All 19 face the same charge of 'conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise known as La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.' They all face the same maximum sentence of life for crimes including six murders, five attempted murders, beatings, kidnappings, drive-by shootings and obstruction of justice.
"U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said, 'The violent activities of MS-13 represent a serious threat to the safety of our communities. We're going to fight violent gangs with the same proven strategies and partnerships that have been successful in our efforts to confront organized criminal enterprises in the past....'"
Again quoting from the article
in the Washington Times
"Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler said the federal charges are superior to the state charges because in a state case, a jury often cannot be told if a defendant is a gang member, because it would be considered prejudicial."
In previous trials, revealing that the defendant is a gang member has been considered prejudicial? No wonder, then, that the trials of gang members have been such charades. In many such cases here, the trials of gang members have been nothing but revolving doors.
According to this August 26, 2005 article
in the Washington Post
"Many of the pending local charges -- including a state murder charge against Zelaya -- have been dropped in deference to the federal prosecution. Others, including a first-degree murder charge pending in Prince George's Circuit Court against Everec Alvarez-Chacon, 28, might be dropped for the same reason, law enforcement officials said."
With the recent steps taken this week, we now have what may be an effective start on reining in gang activities here in the suburbs. But members of these gangs are often juveniles, and some attend the public schools here; with some frequency, parents who are notified by the school administration do not respond because of inadequate English skills or out of fear regarding the parents' immigration status. Furthermore, convicted juveniles usually serve their time (in jail or on probation) and have their records expunged upon release. At least some who are released resume their activities in gangs. ICE also needs to monitor what goes on in juvenile court.
(1) Is this new strategy on the part of federal authorities too little, too late?
(2) Since many of these gangs have roots in Latin America, what is this nation going to do about controlling our borders?Note:
For additional information on gangs in the D.C. area, please see Northern Virginiastan