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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

LI can bemoan Trump's antics but also cheer efforts to crush brutal MS-13 gang

President Donald Trump at a rally in Council

President Donald Trump at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Oct. 9. Whatever we decide to make of his claim that "we've liberated towns on Long Island" from MS-13, there is a lull in gang activity. Credit: Bloomberg / Daniel Acker

Roll your eyes all you want when President Donald Trump fantasizes aloud at rallies that "we've liberated towns on Long Island" from the grip of MS-13.

Wince at his cartoon-style suggestion that cops buck procedure by bumping the suspects' heads on cars.

Call it a vicious lie if you must when he suggests anyone who won't call the tattooed killers "animals," as he does, supports them — or that only he and his partisan allies would ever act against them.

For all the president's showboating, the relevant question is whether progress is made in deterring and punishing criminals who murder kids and intimidate communities.

And sure enough, there seems to be a welcome lull in MS-13 carnage since last year, with arrests and prosecutions taking center stage and deportations pushed even if Trump exaggerates their numbers into "the thousands."

At least, a sense of priority and added resources are apparent. Top bureaucrats are prodded to pay attention. That matters more locally than president’s little road show.

The Mara Salvatrucha organization, rooted in El Salvador, has been here a long time. As told to reporter Sandra Peddie on, former Suffolk Det. John Oliva recalls first seeing the graffiti of a prior generation of the group in 1996.

"What I saw from doing this for 20 years was, you get the spike [in violence], sometimes the spike would last a little bit longer than others, then you'd get the lull, as a series of arrests were made and it will spike up again," Oliva said.

Listening only to Trump might give the impression that this joint federal-local effort is the first of its kind. Both the problem and attempts to curb it clearly emerged while he was playing a boss on television.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham to lead a subcommittee on MS-13 as part of a larger task force on transnational organized crime. This alone marks the so-called "liberation" of Long Island communities as far from complete.

In fact, Sessions noted that Durham has been at this for many years. 

Since 2003, as Newsday reported, Durham’s office successfully prosecuted hundreds of MS-13 members and leaders for violent crimes including murder. The office works with the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force. 

Even when Trump last week nominated U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, it was noted that the judge, who sits in Central Islip, presided over cases involving MS-13 since 2011.

With luck and sustained attention, this round of federal, state and county enforcement could keep the horror suppressed. Whatever you may think of the president’s strutting and derisive finger-pointing, there is now a respite on the ground.


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