Machetes And Other Matters
(All emphases by Always On Watch)
In the last ten years, problems with gang activity have become serious, particularly in Northern Virginia. A short time back, American Crusader posted a blog article about the relationship between the gang MS-13 and inadequate border control:
"...MS-13 appears to be in control of much of the Mexican border. To sustain themselves financially, they smuggle people, drugs and guns across borders. They collect money from illegals. Where MS-13 goes, violence goes. They stop at nothing.As reported in the March 2, 2006 Washington Post article "Assembly Weighing an Array of Measures on Gangs," the Virginia legislature may take some decisive action:
"Recently there have been numerous news reports of connections between al-Queda and MS-13. Intelligence officials in Washington DC have warned law enforcement agencies that al-Qaeda terrorists have been spotted with members of the MS-13 gang in El Salvador.
"Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, a key al Qaeda cell leader for whom the U.S. government has offered a $5 million reward, was spotted in July in Honduras meeting with leaders of El Salvador's notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang...."
"RICHMOND -- The General Assembly is considering legislation that proponents say would help authorities to crack down on gang activity in Northern Virginia.Brandishing a machete isn't already a crime? Yes, in times past, farmers here occasionally used machetes to take down overgrowth of brush although my father preferred a scythe. But brandishing a machete in a parking lot should always have been a crime, I think.
"Most of the bills making their way through the legislature would increase punishments for convicted gang members and grant police more power to manage gang activities and curb the weapons many members use.
"A bill from Del. Vivian A. Watts (D-Fairfax) would generally make brandishing a machete a misdemeanor, though in some cases the act would be a felony."
Continuing now with the aforementioned Washington Post article for the explanation as to why machetes have recently raised some concerns:
"That bill was introduced in response to several high-profile crimes. In May 2004, a member of the South Side Locos lost four fingers when he was attacked with a machete by rival gang members in Fairfax County. Eight months later, a 25-year-old man lost three fingers when he was assaulted by machete-wielding MS-13 gang members outside a Merrifield movie theater.In his book Leadership, Rudy Giuliani explains the broken-windows theory, which basically posits that enforcing laws to control the little crimes also leads to reducing big crime. Maybe the members of the Virginia Assembly should have a look at Mr. Giuliani's book. As long as gang activity here was limited to petty crimes, our state legislature was not too worried. That attitude has now changed. But the recognition is coming very late.
"'The machete is a symbol of a lot of these gangs,' Watts said. The bill 'is a way of trying to arrest [gang members] before they actually commit a crime with the machete.'...
"In the last decade, gangs such as MS-13, a Latino group also known as Mara Salvatrucha, have penetrated Northern Virginia's suburbs and rural areas and have been blamed for many homicides, rapes and beatings. Police have found a gang presence in every high school, and some members are as young as 8....
"...In 2004, the state enacted nearly a dozen laws related to gangs.
"That effort mirrors work done by the state's congressional delegation. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) has helped secure nearly $15 million in federal money over several years for fighting gangs in the region....
"Meanwhile, a bill sponsored by freshman Del. David W. Marsden (D-Fairfax) would require probation officers to check the immigration status of convicted gang members....
"Although many anti-gang bills have passed overwhelmingly, lawmakers and activists have raised concerns. Some researchers and observers doubt that state policies can reduce gang violence...."
Gang activity today is no longer restricted to the inner city, nor does it resemble the gang wars of West Side Story. In fact, over ten years ago gang activity in my neighborhood made the local news when, at the local high school here, a student who tried to leave the gang he had joined was shot dead at the school's entrance. My neighbor's son, the primary witness against the murderer, had to go into hiding for his own protection, and for months our entire neighborhood was provided with round-the-clock police patrols. The police cannot be everywhere, of course, and I had to dig out a small-caliber bullet from from the body of my car; I also had to patch a bullet hole in my front window.
Many suburbanites are now adjusting to the new reality by avoiding certain convenience stores after nightfall, but these steps for personal protection do not address the problem. In the meantime, gang activity moves closer and closer to the more affluent neighborhoods. Furthermore, Fairfax County Public Schools acknowledges gang presence in every high school, and in several middle and elementary schools as well. Specific incidents are not publicized, but the neighborhood grapevine keeps parents and citizens informed.
For the most part, gangs are not constantly roaming the subdivision streets--yet. But random attacks such the aforementioned machete attack at a local movie theater do occur and probably with more frequency than many people are aware of, largely because many incidents go unreported to the general public. For example, last year, while walking home from the grocery store less than two blocks from home, an elderly couple near where we live was set upon and severely beaten by members of MS-13. The incident went unreported except by the local grapevine, in part because the couple feared reprisals. And, of course, news of gang activity in a particular neighborhood depreciates the value of the nearby McMansions. Residents in the D.C. suburbs see little depreciating effect on the soaring real-estate assessments, however:
"When Linda T. Nevitte opened her 2006 property assessment notice a few days ago, she knew enough about the Northern Virginia real estate market to expect a higher assessment on her 22-year-old colonial in Sterling.Today's problems with gangs go far beyond territorial feuds or "kids just having fun." What was not being said when the Virginia Senate recently turned aside a bill which would have nullified businesses' ban on guns in locked cars in their parking lots: many law-abiding Virginians want to carry firearms in parking lots precisely because of gang activity, which creeps closer and closer to impacting our daily lives, no matter the economic status of the area. I predict an upsurge in Virginia's provision for "license-to-carry-concealed," relatively easy to obtain in the Old Dominion. After all, a .38 beats a machete every time.
"But nothing could have prepared her for what she saw -- that her 2,800-square-foot home, valued at $431,300 in January 2005, was worth $603,200. That's a 40 percent increase from one year to the next, and it is likely to lead to a whopping new tax bill for Nevitte this spring.
"'The whole neighborhood got a 40 percent increase," Nevitte said. 'We have a neighborhood e-mail system, and it's on fire. I'm expecting them to storm the courthouse with pitchforks and knives.'
"Thousands of property owners across the region know how Nevitte feels. It's sticker shock season -- the time of year when property assessments jolt homeowners with the good news (more equity) and bad (higher tax bills) of rising property values....
"...Laurie F. Neff, 34, owns a home in the Sumner Lake neighborhood of Manassas. Her 3,500 square-foot home's value rose from $535,500 to $749,600 -- a 40 percent increase. Neff said she believes that the assessment is wrong because her house has been on the market for two months -- for $689,000. All Neff said she could think when she read her notice was: 'Are they on crack?'
"Assessments rose briskly in the inner suburbs, too -- 20.6 percent in Fairfax County, 19.5 percent in Alexandria, to name two...."
Update from a March 11, 2006 Washington Post article, "28-Year Term for Fairfax Gang Attack: MS-13 Member Unrepentant for 2005 Ambush With Machete":
"A 19-year-old Latino gang member, convicted of chopping off another man's fingers with a machete outside a Fairfax County movie theater last year, was sentenced yesterday to 28 years in prison...."