Latino Gangs are ‘More Violent,’ Says Brooklyn Prosecutor

Deanna Rodríguez in her office. (Photo by José A. Rivera / El Diario)

As violent Latino gangs such as MS-13 make inroads in New York City, the head of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office gang unit, Deanna Rodríguez, spoke to El Diario La Prensa about her views on the gang menace in New York City. The article and interview are translated below.

Deanna Rodríguez, a criminal lawyer born in El Barrio (Spanish Harlem) to Puerto Rican parents, has made it her mission to eradicate gang violence in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes appointed her deputy chief of homicide “when that office did not reflect the diversity of the people it served,” according to Rodríguez.

In 1994, the DA’s office created the Gang Bureau, and two years later, Rodríguez took charge. Today, nearly two decades later, she is still the head of the Gang Bureau. However, rather than hunting down gang members to put them behind bars, her current top priority is to find new ways to help former gang members re-enter civilian life as people that can be useful in society.

El Diario: You have frequently disagreed with police statistics about the existing number of gang members. Do you think that the number of gang members is increasing?

Deanna Rodríguez: In my experience, if somebody — whoever he or she might be — gives you a figure on the number of gang members, you should multiply it by 20. The reality is that there isn’t a single area of our society that isn’t being affected by gangs at some level. I can’t give precise data on the number of gang members, but I can say that the violence caused by gangs is growing.

It’s rising in the entire state of New York and throughout the whole country. And there’s a very simple reason for that: when the economy is bad, the ones who suffer the most are the two most vulnerable parts of our society, children and the elderly. It’s impossible to stop our children from joining gangs when all of the funding for extracurricular programs, and for the schools as well, is taken away. This deprives children of safe places to go. Moreover, we live in a time when it’s very rare that one of the parents can stay at home to take care of their children, because they both have to work.

ED: What is the difference between Latino gang members and members of other gangs?

DR: They are more violent. Anybody can obtain a gun and shoot someone. Latino gangs are famous for using daggers and knives. Stabbing somebody demands much more courage since it means getting very close and having a lot of strength. I can say that out of all the gangs I keep an eye on, the Latino gangs are the most violent.

ED: Can you describe in further detail the unique characteristics of the various types of Latino gangs?

DR: The Mexican gangs, for example, are unusual because all of their members work. All of them have jobs, and when they get off work, they start drinking — and then somebody dies. I would say that the Niños Malos are among the most violent.

But then there are Los Trinitarios, [a Dominican gang] that play the game at another level. They’re so violent that absolutely nobody likes them, not even Dominicans. Los Trinitarios also don’t want any allies; they simply want to control everything. Moreover, they require that their newest members commit a crime as soon as possible, and then they lead the members to believe that there isn’t any escape from the gang.

The Latin Kings are also making a comeback. Although they aren’t as organized as they were before, they could be included among the more dangerous gangs.

ED: Which part of the city is currently the most affected by gang violence?

DR: It’s very difficult to say because there isn’t one area of the city that isn’t being affected by gangs in some way or another. This is no longer a problem of the poor, Latinos or African-Americans; this is a problem for Americans. Even wealthy children whose parents are doctors or lawyers aren’t safe. Those parents say they had no idea that their children were involved in gangs; they thought their children were doing what they usually did. The parents only need to pay attention to the type of music their children are listening to.

I like rap, but I don’t put up with gangster rap. We shouldn’t let our children listen to music that glorifies killing a police officer. We have failed this generation, and as adults, we are all responsible for what is happening.

5 Comments

  1. I write to express great concerns about the title of this tranlated article which seeks to publicly highlight general negative stereotypes about Latinos. The original article in El Diario was entitled: “Una hispana busca frenar las pandillas” which roughly translates into “Latina seeks to challenge or confront gangs”. The tranlated article heading rather than using literal translation instead radically changes it to focus on fact that the prosecutor indicates that based upon her experience Latino gangs are more violent. I’m curious why Voices and the translator chose that for their article heading? Are you seeking to further publicize negative stereotypes about Latinos like ABC did in a recent show where Puerto Rican character stated he was only good at selling drugs? Please explain your logic for choosing this headline. Jose perez, LatinoJustice PRLDEF

  2. Indrani Sen says:

    Thank you very much for your feedback, Mr. Perez. It is certainly not our intention to spread negative stereotypes of Latinos — in fact, Voices has published extensive coverage of Latino issues, and even of the discussion of negative stereotypes (https://voicesofny.org/2012/03/video-campaign-pokes-fun-at-stereotypes-of-latinos/). In this case, the subject of the interview, Deanna Rodríguez, is speaking about her experience as a prosecutor, and she says in Spanish that she has found that Latino gangs are “más violentos,” which we translated literally as “more violent.” The reasoning for headlining the article with that statement was journalistic — it being the most striking and newsworthy aspect of the article.

  3. With all due respect to journalistic reasoning, the title “Latino Gangs are ‘More Violent,’ Says Brooklyn Prosecutor” is sensationalizing one aspect of what Ms. Rodriguez said and is not consistent with the broader context in which she said it. Furthermore, the quotes around “more violent” underscore this and imply that opinion is uniquely hers and subjective. The particular gangs she mentions, an particularly MS-13, are widely cited in media and by law enforcement for their reputation and use of violence. To her credit, Ms. Rodriguez recognizes this, but does not let that alone dictate her response as a prosecutor. She opts for intervention rather than simply a “get tough” law enforcement responses. The interview captures her essence as both a realist that know gangs are dangerous and one that can see that simple solutions are not viable. The headline is at best misleading. Consistent with what Jose Perez said, the direct translation of the original Spanish headline would have been more consistent with the interview, more journalistically honest, and less incendiary. Good interview but deserves a more appropriate headline.

  4. “If it bleeds, it leads” eh Voices?
    I wonder how far you would have gotten if the title read
    “Black gangs are more violent” or
    “Jewish gangs are more violent”.
    Little did you think that many of us speak, read and write both languages and I bet a day laborer would have done a better job of translating this article. Shame on you.

  5. Pingback: Latino Rebels | El Hoyo Maravilla: Portraits of Gangster Style

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