Sarah Garland: Suburban Gangs

Inequality, neglect and prejudice fuel the growth of gangs. Is it any wonder that gangs have sprouted in suburbia -- including Nassau and Suffolk? Michael Alguera, 15, of Hempstead was murdered by gang members last year on the grounds of the troubled local high school. And Marcelo Lucero (Patchogue) and Jose SucuzhaƱay (Brooklyn) were murder victims of gang violence -- as was Luis Ramirez (Shenandoah, PA).

Suburban Gangland, Young Lives Cut Short (NYTimes, June 19, 2009) is an article adaptation based Sarah Garland's book Gangs in Garden City about the rise of gangs on Long Island (Nation).

Here's an excerpt:

The two rival gangs had appeared on Long Island around the same time in the mid-1990s, after the last of the white residents who built Hempstead into a bustling retail hub half a century earlier moved away and Hispanics filled the void. Mara Salvatrucha was formed by a group of older men, some of them veterans of the Salvadoran civil war, who were often victims of the village’s African-American gangs. They adopted the name from a gang gaining a reputation for ruthlessness in Los Angeles and Central America.

Salvadorans With Pride started as a civic organization, also with the intention of protecting members of Hempstead’s growing Hispanic population. The good intentions disintegrated when some of its members — most of them American-born — clashed with Mara Salvatrucha.

Francisco had never encountered gangs in El Salvador, but he joined Salvadorans With Pride the summer after his first year on Long Island. His new friends promised to end the teasing and bullying, and, like other teenagers, he wanted to fit in. Back at school in the fall, he learned that Jaime had joined Mara Salvatrucha.

The two tried to stay friends. They still passed notes in class. But Jaime was having trouble at home and disappeared from school for days at a time. Francisco had his own problems. He was fighting constantly with his mother, who felt like a stranger after their years apart. When Jaime disappeared for two weeks in December, Francisco worried, but did not go looking for him.

On Jan. 17, 2003, Francisco woke up to a phone call. Jaime, 14, had been stabbed three times by members of 18th Street, a gang affiliated with S.W.P. that had originated in Los Angeles. Jaime had died alone on the steps of the Long Island Rail Road station. Francisco was devastated, but he was too afraid to go to Jaime’s funeral. Instead, he watched the local news for a glimpse of the coffin.

Picture: Michael Alguera, 15, known as Mikey, was fatally stabbed on a handball court at Hempstead High School, in January 2008.


Jackson Heights Poetry Festival - June 18-20, 2009

Jackson Heights Poetry Festival
Poetry & Memory
June 18-20, 2009

June 18 6:30PM - 9:30 PM: Workshop
June 19 7:30PM - 10:30 PM: Open Readings
June 20 All Day: Outdoor Festival

Garden School, Jackson Heights, New York and
Terraza Cafe, 40-19 Gleane St. Elmhurst, New York



"My Block: Strong Island" -- A Film by Jordan Crafton and Tyrell Spencer

My Block: Strong Island by Jordan Crafton and Tyrell Spencer, both 21, is a documentary film about 15 Long Island young people overcoming obstacles as they reach for their dreams. The film premiered June 5th at their alma mater - Uniondale High.

The film provides a glimpse into lives of youths rarely presented on traditional Long Island media. As one commentator wrote after watching the film's trailer on video channel:
LI 12 News does not show the real Long Island. Im glad to see we are slowly steppin up and introducing truth to the rest of NY.
My Block is also about young African Americans from Long Island declaring their challenges, talents and dreams as no less legit or authentic than those of their counterparts in Brooklyn and Queens.

The My Block: Strong Island Trailer

My Block: Strong Island Teaser

My Block: Strong Island Extras

JDC Films
2 Uniondale High School alums to unveil film about LI