In parts of Sunset Park and Brighton Beach, young Mexican-American gangs are taking over the area as gangs from other ethnic groups become less prevalent, El Diario La Prensa reports. Community organizations are stepping in and asking the police for a program to help combat the rise in gang activity. El Diario’s Zaira Cortés delves into their rituals and activities, including second-generation gang members learning to speak their parents’ native language. Her article is translated below from Spanish.
Jail, the hospital, or death: According to ex-gang members, these are the three foreseeable destinies of many Mexican youth growing up in immigrant neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
In neighborhoods such as Sunset Park and Brighton Beach, residents have reported that gangs have become more hostile by increasingly recruiting younger children, engaging in violent fights, extorting business owners, selling and buying illegal weapons, and creating small prostitution rings.
Although the problem isn’t new, community activists say that the new gangs, whose members are Mexican, are “more active” compared with gangs from other ethnic groups that previously terrorized the area.
“The gangs from other communities preferred to change course, like the Ñeta gang, or they’re less visible,” said Samuel Cruz, a sociologist and reverend of Trinity Lutheran Church. Cruz has been an activist in Sunset Park for seven years. “Unfortunately, Mexican youths took over the area.”
What to Do With the Youth?
Cruz said that various Latino and Mexican community organizations are intervening.
Activist David Galarza stressed that the youth need guidance; they don’t need to get arrested. Galarza was referring to the police practice known as stop-and-frisk, a method used to deter criminal activity whereby police officers stop and search people they suspect of carrying weapons or posing risks to public safety.
In 2010, the 72nd Precinct created a workshop for parents on how to recognize young adults with gang problems.
Given the rise in gang activity in this part of Brooklyn, community and religious leaders plan to ask the police for a new program.
The police confirmed the presence of Mexican-Americans in the area’s gangs, and reported that the most active gangs are in Queens and Brooklyn, and distinguish themselves with their preference for knives and machetes. Unlike other groups, they are more territorial and less organized.
In 2009, the 72nd Precinct identified 410 gang members in Sunset Park, 170 of whom were Mexican.
In 2011, the precinct recorded 303 incidents related to gang activity in the city, compared with 228 in 2010.
A Culture of Violence
The Mexican gang Escuadrón-Los Panchitos of Brighton Beach is the enemy of Los Niños Malos; the two are constantly fighting over territory.
Sunset Park residents said that fights between groups of 30 to 50 young men frequently break out on Third Avenue.
Escuadrón-Los Panchitos is part of La Raza Loca, a long-time rival of La Gran Familia Mexicana.
Mario (not his real name), a 20-year-old ex-gang member, said that the gang’s colors are black and brown, members have tattoos of la Santa Muerte (the saint of death), and their initials are SDN (for Escuadrón) and PCS (for Panchitos).
Mario explained that he joined the gang when he was 14 and his “baptism” consisted of getting beaten up by three rival gang members.
“To join the gang, you have to withstand the blows without falling down. The women have to have sex with everyone.”
Mario said that the gang stands out for its use of machetes and “ice picks” that the gang members make on their own (“ice picks” are pieces of metal with “eight fingers” that they sharpen on the sidewalk), but the gang also uses firearms.
“They buy weapons from other gangs or through their contacts in the street. A shotgun costs $800 and a 9-millimeter revolver is $500 or $600.”
Mario pointed out that although the gang is made up of Mexican-Americans, they only speak Spanish; that is how he learned to speak his parents’ native language better.
Business Owners Living in Fear
Coexisting with gang members has become a normal way of life in these neighborhoods.
A Mexican small business owner who preferred to remain anonymous said that for businesses that have music events, it’s better to be affiliated with Los Niños Malos, a Mexican gang that started in the 1990s and claims Sunset Park as its territory.
According to police, Los Niños Malos are part of La Gran Familia Mexicana, a coalition of gangs that operates throughout the five boroughs and New Jersey.
“I organized dance parties in the neighborhood up until a few months ago,” said the business owner, who has been living in Sunset Park for 18 years. “The gang members contacted me and demanded money in exchange for not damaging my advertising.”
He said that he paid between $150 and $200 for each event so that his advertisements wouldn’t be destroyed.
“I also paid them with tickets to the dance parties. Nobody around here wants to be their enemy.”
Mini-Cartels and Prostitution
The ex-gang member said that the gang earns money by selling marijuana and crack cocaine (a gram costs $20) and charges brothel-owners in exchange for protection.
“The brothels have to pay to operate in our territory,” [Mario said.] “They pay a percentage of their daily earnings. We also exchange ‘old ladies’ (prostitutes) among gangs and businesses.”
Mario said that many of the prostitutes were underage, and that the gang frequently intimidates residents who report criminal activity to the police.
Coney Island residents said that Escuadrón-Los Panchitos used to have more power in their neighborhood, but over the last few years, another Mexican gang called La Raza (no relation to La Raza Loca) has taken over the streets.