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It's A Gray Area: Proactive approach to gangs needed

June 06, 2010|James P. Gray

Do you want to have a disturbing experience? Then read the book "This Is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America's Most Violent Gang" by Samuel Logan (Hyperion, 2009). The word "mara" is Spanish for "gang," and the word Salvatrucha in El Salvador is slang for "street smart."

This juvenile gang was formed in 1980s Los Angeles by immigrants who were fleeing the civil war in El Salvador. But since many of the founders were former guerrilla fighters, they brought with them a cavalier attitude toward life and death. This in turn facilitated their use of extreme violence that even shocked other gangs in the area. But it also enabled MS-13 eventually to take control of large amounts of gang territory.

By 1996, the U.S. government adopted a policy of deporting MS-13 members back to their countries of origin, in many cases after serving jail or prison sentences here. Unfortunately in many ways that strategy backfired, because it resulted in the deportees using their knowledge, experiences and prison connections to form similar MS-13 gangs around the world.

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Today there are estimated to be somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 members of MS-13. They range all over our country from Alaska to New York, with strongholds in the D.C. area, Nashville, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Charlotte, New Orleans and Knoxville, in addition to Los Angeles. They are also found in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Spain. All of this makes MS-13 almost as organized and all-pervasive as the Mafia.

The initiation process conveys the depths to which this gang has descended. Males mostly go through the initiation process of receiving the brutality of a full-on assault with unrestrained punches and kicks from the gang members for 13 seconds. The females, who make up about 1% of the membership, can either be initiated in the same way as the males, or they can be "sexed-in," which means that the girl is repeatedly raped by all of the males present until the males are satisfied. But this process also gives those young women almost sub-human status in the eyes of the other members.

The MS-13 makes its money the same way most other criminal gangs do, which is by being involved in extortion and dealing in human, arms and drug trafficking. But due to their reputation for gruesome violence, MS-13 members are also often hired by other gangs as contract killers.

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