$20 million in funding aimed at neutralizing gang’s threat on Long Island

Photo by Kevin P. Coughlin, Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo announces a $20 million initiative to combat MS-13 violence on Long Island. $15 million from the new grant will help build a new community “hub” building in Brentwood. The governor touched on the importance of deterring young kids from gangs, saying it is easy to get sucked in.

Gov. Cuomo, lawmakers and police stand up to MS-13 street gang with new strategy – cutting off their source of recruits

The state will be spending $20 million on new efforts to combat gang activity on Long Island, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday.

Most of the new funding — $15 million — will be used to build a “community hub” in Brentwood, a hamlet in the Town of Islip in Suffolk County where gang activity is rampant.

The community hub will be a place where children can receive help with schoolwork, counseling and mental health services. The hub would also house performing arts spaces, athletic facilities, and provide space for afterschool and evening youth programs for the 19,000 children in the Brentwood School District.

The strategy is to provide a supervised place for young people to get help with schoolwork, receive health services and have a place to play instead of being targeted by gangs for recruitment.

MS-13, which has plagued Long Island in recent years, recruits children as young as 11 years old.

Cuomo, who was in Brentwood on Monday to announce the $20 million project, said it is everyone’s duty to make sure that at-risk youths are led down the right path and that they are given opportunities in order to grow and not resort to a life of crime.

“If we fail them at this point, we lose them for a lifetime,” Cuomo said.

Long Island is one of the gang’s strongholds. Their activity on Long Island has increased drastically since 2015 and the gang has been linked to dozens of murders in the area recently.

In addition to the new $15 million community center, the state is providing:

  • $2.5 million for increased park safety measures
  • $1 million for surveillance cameras and law enforcement technology
  • $500,000 to strengthen mental health and social service throughout Long Island

Joining Cuomo at the announcement in Brentwood were, Budget Director Robert Mujica; Senator Phil Boyle; and Assemblymen David McDonough, Mike Fitzpatrick, Andrew Raia, Charles Lavine and Phil Ramos, a former Suffolk County police officer of 20 years.

Cuomo used string words on Monday in Brentwood, labeling MS-13 a “scourge.”

“Every child, every parent has to know that we are protecting their life and their liberty and that is a law-enforcement task, period,” Cuomo said.

However, the governor added that this is a “complex, multi-faceted issue” and that the problem cannot be solved through a crackdown by law enforcement alone. The issue goes much deeper and begins in the environment where at-risk children grow up.

Long Island is one of the gang’s most active strongholds. Their activity on Long Island has increased dramatically in the last decade and the gang has been linked to dozens of murders in the area in just the past few years.

Suffolk County has one of the highest populations of illegal immigrants in the country, many from El Salvador, the birthplace of MS-13, which was founded in 1980. Seeking refuge in communities on such as Brentwood, Hempstead, Freeport, and Central Islip, some immigrant teens and pre-teens are seeking the shelter that gangs promise.

Suffolk County alone has 300 members of MS-13 and 200 confirmed associates of the gang.

Dedicated MS-13 members can often be easy to spot. Many of them have face tattoos as well as ink on the rest of their body. According to reports in Newsday and other newspapers, most work low-paying jobs during the day as car washers, landscapers, sheet-metal platers, and food service workers. However, at night is when the gang is most active.

Several of the members are focused on making the gang one of the most brutal in the country, often using machetes on their victims.

Members of the gang are usually very young, either in their teens or early twenties. Most are recruited at the ages of 11 to 15.

Victims of the gang mostly consist of young African Americans and Latinos living in poverty, yet their actions have affected entire communities.

New York State Budget Director Robert Mujica said Tuesday, “Using fear, MS-13 preys on kids who are economically disadvantaged, socially isolated, and afraid in a new country.”

Cuomo and Long Island legislators are hoping the projects announced this week will steer young people away from gangs such as MS-13.

“You know how much it costs to keep a person in a prison cell? $60,000 per year, in a prison cell. $60,000 per year,” Cuomo said. “Why is the state investing $15 million, $20 million in MS-13 and helping young people? I would much rather invest in a young person and a positive future, than pay $60,000 a year to lock a person in a cell for the rest of their lives.”