Members of the Hispanic community in Central Islip, Long Island, where the bodies of four youths were found in a park, want to see changes in the way the police and the local government are responding to the gang violence that has overtaken the streets.
“It is time to offer an alternative because what they have been doing has not worked for more than a decade,” said Margarita Espada, director of Teatro Yerbabruja, which is based in the neighborhood where the youths were killed.
The Puerto Rican mother of two teenage children said that she does not allow her kids to go alone to the Clayton Avenue Community Park, where the bodies were found. “No area is safe around here,” said Espada.
During a press conference, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini declared war on the gang “MS-13” (Mara Salvatrucha), which the authorities suspect is behind the murders. The bodies showed signs of having been brutally beaten, as well as serious wounds caused by a sharp instrument.
“The manner in which they were killed is consistent with the modus operandi of MS-13 so we are clearly looking into that possibility,” said Sini in front of the park.
Two of the victims were identified by the police as Jorge Tigre, 18, and Justin Llivicura, 16, both Ecuadorean students at Bellport High School and not gang members, as family members told Newsday.
Other similar killings
“We cannot allow the loss of more minors,” said Suffolk County legislator Mónica Martínez, who represents Brentwood, where last September two 16-year-old girls were killed in similar circumstances.
Those deaths led to the arrest of 10 MS-13 members last month, who have been criminally charged with murder. All of them were undocumented immigrants.
Since she took office three years ago, Martínez has been trying to curb gang violence by investing in schools, creating a summer camp and bringing in gang intervention programs, as well as a resource center for the area’s parents.
“We need resources, we need people who invest in our district, 95 percent of which consists of working families who are doing their best for their kids,” expressed the Salvadoran legislator, as she urged every level of government to help with the situation.
Margarita Espada would like to see more money invested in cultural centers like her theater because, as she sees it, the gang problem occurs because there are not enough social and cultural places for the kids to feel accepted.
“Gangs offer them that space,” she explained. “If they take away your language and your identity and you are in a place where nothing is validated, you are going to search for a place where you feel safe and that you belong.”
This problem is not new. In the mid-1970s, Manhattan’s Chinatown saw an increase in Asian gang activity. “Chinese youth who were unable or unwilling to assimilate gravitated toward the gangs as a way of buffering themselves from the unfamiliar aspects of American society, and as a way to establish a sense of fraternity,” wrote Anthony Destefano in his book “Gangland New York.”
Unfortunately, when events like that occur, an anti-immigrant rhetoric surges in social media and conservative outlets.
Espada noted an increase of messages from Long Island community groups “feeding anti-immigrant views” that, she said, are already high in the area.
“It is unfortunate that a small percentage is damaging the reputation of the majority,” added legislator Martínez.