The solution has to start with understanding the depth and complexity of a problem that so many of us find unthinkable: There are young men on Long Island so intimidated, disconnected, scared, confused or alone that joining a murderous street gang like MS-13 seems reasonable to them.
Playing the long game in trying to solve that problem, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will ask state lawmakers to approve $11.5 million to thwart gang recruitment by creating after-school programs and increasing vocational training and education initiatives. The announcement last week is part of Cuomo’s preview of issues he’ll discuss in his State of the State speech in January.
At a time when violent crime on Long Island is historically low in most communities, police have linked 11 killings in Brentwood and Islip in the past 15 months to MS-13. The gang recruits young men from Central America, many of whom came here as unaccompanied minors and lack the local family and support structures that should help them steer clear.
The first priority in dealing with violent gangs must always be enforcing the law. Putting gang members behind bars for a long time can make the streets safer for awhile and make gang life less attractive. But this occurs mostly after MS-13’s atrocities are committed. We also need to prevent them.
Recent studies in Virginia and California found the kind of interventions Cuomo proposes, aimed at those 11 to 15 years old, reduced gang recruitment and trouble. That’s because they can help provide kids with the structure and support they find in gangs.
This problem won’t disappear overnight. The consistent, multipronged approach Cuomo is helping establish is the best way forward. — The editorial board