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LI needs federal action on deadly gang violence, not rhetoric

Attorney General Jeff Sessions waits to make a

Attorney General Jeff Sessions waits to make a statement at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in Washington on March 6, 2017. Credit: AP

Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to come to Long Island to visit a scene of horrendous gang violence. On Friday, he’s likely to add his own promises to the ones other politicians have been presenting here like wreaths laid upon fresh graves.

But it is resources that are needed, and commitment.

We need the promise of more FBI investigators tracking down these killers and their accomplices, and a visible multi-agency presence that makes a gang member afraid to cross the street. We need a community that feels strong enough to reject this violence as a way of life.

Posturing will be quickly forgotten. And it can do harm if the rhetoric leaves community members, already fearful of immigration crackdowns, terrified of communicating with law enforcement, or if it ignores the dangers some immigrants really do present.

Central Islip and Brentwood, with huge immigrant communities, have been wracked by killings that police and federal prosecutors connect to the street gang MS-13, which has its roots in El Salvador and its hooks in Suffolk County.

Those two communities have been overwhelmed by a flood of unaccompanied minors from Central America who entered this country illegally. Overall, more than 4,000 young people in Suffolk have come here as unaccompanied minors since 2014, which puts the county among the nation’s leaders.

That flood of refugees is related to a recent spate of deadly gang violence and as many as 17 killings since January 2016, but officials say a vast majority of these children are law-abiding, fleeing horrors in search of a better life.

In September, Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Nisa Mickens, 15, were killed in a vicious gang attack in Brentwood, apparently on little more than a whim. The investigation turned up three more bodies, and another man reportedly believed to be cooperating with investigators was killed. That case led to the arrest of 13 members of MS-13, several of whom came as unaccompanied minors. On April 12, the mutilated bodies of four young men, including one visiting from Florida, were found in a Central Islip park. The horror and headlines redoubled the focus on this murderous gang. Everyone is promising help.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) tried to bring President Donald Trump to address the situation. That would have been a distraction. Instead, he got Sessions, who has often spoken harshly about immigrants and will be the subject of protests while here, shifting the focus. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo yesterday promised more state police patrols staffed by 25 troopers and investigators. But County Executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini want more resources to help the schools, the county and the local U.S. attorney’s office cope with the current crisis and the long-term problem.

Long Island must be a place where refugee children can find help, and a place where law enforcement protects the populace. A place where the welcome that children get is far more attractive than the one MS-13 offers, and where everybody, regardless of immigration status, can go to a police station for help. Speeches aside, that’s what politicians need to deliver. — The editorial board


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