Jesica Granados believes the police checkpoints by her home in Brentwood are working. She thinks they’re keeping the gangs at bay.
Magaly Ramese is seeing fewer drug dealers and prostitutes along Suffolk Avenue in Central Islip, which she sees as offshoots of the MS-13 gang.
And Tyrone Sutton flies his model helicopter in Central Islip’s community park, right beside the woods where police found four teenagers fatally stabbed more than a year ago. Several MS-13 gang members have been indicted in the brutal deaths.
“I have no fear out here,” said Sutton, 65, who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years.
Only 10 months ago in Brentwood, before a crowd of law enforcement officers, President Donald Trump branded MS-13 as a “vile criminal cartel” that has “transformed peaceful parks in beautiful neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields.”
On Wednesday, the president is set to attend a gang forum at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage. He returns to Long Island at a time when people say they’re seeing changes for the better in communities such as Brentwood and Central Islip.
Like Central Islip, Brentwood knows about gangs. Two years ago, police said, MS-13 members beat two teenage girls to death. Their bodies were discovered in a residential neighborhood.
Today, residents in both Brentwood and Central Islip credit a targeted police presence and increased political focus for quieting the gang violence.
“It feels a lot better and safer,” said Melissa Early, 40, who has lived in Brentwood her entire life. “I’m not sure if they’ve moved on or they just know people are gunning for them.”
Early’s grandmother, Marjorie Jenkins, 83, agrees.
“It seems to be quiet now,” said Jenkins, who has lived in Brentwood since the 1960s. “We don’t hear about as many problems, so I feel better about things.”
In April 2017, only weeks after the killings in Central Islip, law enforcement officials stepped up undercover operations and patrols in gang hot spots. They rounded up hundreds of suspected MS-13 members, records show.
Still, those who live in Brentwood and Central Islip are anxious that the good times might not last. They fear that when the police take off the pressure, MS-13 will resurface — with all its dirty trappings.
“People are still leery and apprehensive,” said Jacqueline Burks, 55, who moved from Brentwood to Central Islip last year.
Burks suspects MS-13 members have simply moved on or are keeping a low profile.
“Yes it’s gotten better but I wouldn’t walk around by myself at night,” Burks said.
Sutton believes MS-13 has embedded itself into American culture, much like the mafia.
“You can knock ‘em down, but you’ll never get rid of them,” he said.
A little more than a month ago, MS-13 made death threats against Nassau and Hempstead Village police in retaliation for the crackdown against its members.
Authorities across Long Island realize the importance of staying vigilant.
“We know that if we take our eye off the ball, the gangs will reconstitute,” said Geraldine Hart, Suffolk County’s police commissioner.
Granados, 26, doesn’t want to go back to feeling edgy and scared.
“It used to be . . . people afraid to walk around,” Granados said.
She had been hesitant to take her 2-year-old son outside.
“Random shootings,” she said. “Now it’s all different. The police are really on top of things.”
Ramese, 42, had been worried about her 11-year-old son before the crackdown. She still is.
A school bus driver, she hears what the kids are saying.
“They talk about MS-13,” she said. “They talk about gangs.”