6/21/09

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.