A predator in our midst that we are unaware of


In the diverse world we all live in, we go along with our jobs, our daily routines, our television shows and our other diversions.

While we do, there are other worlds, other agendas that whirl about us like planets around the Sun, and we are unaware of their very existence until we collide with them, sometimes fatally.

Many who live in suburban Nassau County believe that the gang crime is an urban problem and that they are insulated from it by living away from a large city, but they are not., In fact, one of the major centers for what federal law enforcement agencies consider the most vicious and brutal gang in the world — Mara Salvatrucha, better known simply as MS-13 — is the Town of Hempstead and its environs.

As the editor of the Queens weekly, The Wave, I covered crime and particularly gang crime almost every week. It is a staple in New York City newspapers, even community weeklies. I had little knowledge of MS-13, but in 2009 it collided with my consciousness in a big way, and the invasion of the turf that was held by a number of local drug gang was from Nassau County.

In fact, it was the Hempstead branch of MS-13 that came, guns blazing, to Rockaway just prior to Christmas in that year. The gang decided it wanted to take over the drug business from the traditional Rockaway salesmen, the Crips, the Bloods, the Rockaway 40 Boyz and the GIB (for get it in bricks, as in Cocaine).

Several locals were shot dead on the streets, one on the way to buy milk for his baby. There was a drive-by shooting that killed two and wounded six others on a corner in the major Far Rockaway shopping area just before Christmas. At least some of those who were wounded were not gang-bangers, but the MS-13 shooters did not seem to mind that fact that some bystanders doing some pre-Christmas shopping were shot as well. They just shot up everybody in sight, dealers and shoppers alike.

The cops put it down to a gang and drug-related incident, NHI — no humans involved, and said publicly that an out-of-town gang was involved. Several days later, gang markings traditional to MS-13 were found on the street in a residential section of Rockaway Park. The police said that the marking were a warning to local drug dealers to get out of town.

On the evening of March 17, 2010, I was listening to the scanner late in the evening and heard that cops on routine patrol had stopped three men on the boardwalk at Beach 9 Street, nearby the Atlantic Beach Bridge. The men were acting suspiciously and had no identification, except for the gang tats on their necks, arms and chests. The cops decided to call for backup and a patrol supervisor. Police checked the dark beachfront and found a man hacked to death by a machete. By the time they found the body, I was on my way to the 101 Precinct house in Far Rockaway, hoping to get some information and a photo of the three men.

A detective whom I knew well came out of the house and told me that the three were members of MS-13 and that they had killed the other man because he was a gang member who refused to kill members of other gangs and was therefore considered a coward who deserved to die. That was my introduction to MS-13.

Since then, they have been involved in several high-profile federal cases as law enforcement attempts to deal with their menace.

The feds call MS-13 the most vicious gang in the world and that title is well earned. Members recently killed a woman and her child because the woman, the girlfriend of an MS-13 member, has spoken with a member of another gang in a Hempstead bar. They killed her 2-year-old son because there was an off chance that “he would grow up and seek revenge.”

In 2009, they put out a contract to kill the federal agent who was running the task force that had arrested many local MS-13 leaders and worked to get them jailed and deported.

Acts such as that define the word “vicious.”

The great majority of gang members are Hispanic, mostly from Central and South America. They are notorious for their use of violence and a subcultural moral code that predominantly consists of merciless revenge and cruel retributions.

And, they are all around us as we go along doing what we do each day.

Police say that gang members “make their bones,” become members of the gang by killing not the member of another gang, but by killing a random person chosen for no other reason that they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When MS-13 members are on the prowl, federal sources say, there are no innocent bystanders. There are only gang members and targets. Local police have been largely unable to contain the problem because they do not have the resources to deal with such a dangerous population. Federal law enforcement agencies, however, do have the resources and are getting more involved with stopping the brutal MS-13 gang each week.

The FBI and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been getting up to speed on combating MS-13 in recent years. Let us all hope that it’s a war that the federal agencies can win, because local police seem to have little hope of getting traction against them.

In today’s world, nobody is insulated and isolated from their environment, either in person or on social media. People need to understand that they have to be careful in their everyday lives, because there are predators out there that are ready to pounce with little or no reason at all.