Crime and Punishment Gangs Media

The Newark Murders and the Myth of MS-13


In my utterly sleep-deprived, road-addled state,
I was scheduled this morning to be interviewed for a new NPR show that’s being done specifically for web-radio and podcasting. It’s called the Bryant Park Project.

The subject was the Newark murders and whether we should blame the gang MS-13—Mara Salvatrucha—for the awful kllings of the three college students. It seems that two of the alleged killers, the 28-year-old and 24-year-old, were members—or purported members of MS-13. Plus the 15-year-old killers had MySpace pages that were filled with MS-13 imagery.

So was this a gang “hit” the Los Angeles MS-13 gangs had ordered?
the very nice young host wanted to know. You can hear what I said when the segment goes online this afternoon. (I have NO idea if I completed any of my sentences in my entirely fatigued state.)

But for the record, the answer is….of course not.

The Newark murders were ghastly, ultra-predatory crimes that have everything to do with three messed-up, disaffected young teenagers who came under the sway of some truly evil adult predators. (Why in the world were 15-year olds hanging out with a 28 year old?)

When the MS-13 connection came up, I called my friend Alex Sanchez, to find out what he thought about what the media was saying about the MS-13 link. Alex is the executive director of Homies Unidos, a respected gang intervention group in LA. He’s a terrific man, and a former gang member who straightened out his life and now is of great help to others. He also happens to be from El Salvador, and his contacts among LA’s MS-13 homeboys are better than most anyone I know.

He said the guys on the street were as mystified as the rest of us as to why three college students would be lined up and murdered, another shot, in the most cold-blooded and vicious way possible—for nothing other than maybe some gold chains, cell phones, and whatever pocket change. This isn’t gang behavior. It’s psychopathic behavior.

More than with any other gang within memory—including the Crips and the Bloods—the media has mythologized Mara Salvatrucha to a ridiculous degree. “The Most Dangerous Gang in America!” the headlines scream! Oh, please.

All that media-driven hysteria accomplishes is to tell a sad, broken 15-year-old that if he wants to feel powerful—and like “somebody”—he should live up to this overblown media myth.

All gangs are dangerous and tragic—MS-13 among them. But most of the LA gang murders that, year after year, tear terrible, irreparable holes in families and communities are not the result of the organized actions of supergangs. They’re inevitably over something far more depressingly ordinary

A random example: A year or two ago, the mother of one gang member in East LA got her car stolen, and a couple of members of another gang saw it and failed to stop it. (They didn’t do the car jacking, it just came to light that they hadn’t prevented it.) Words were exchanged. Threats were made. Threats escalated. Someone got shot. And then retaliations piled on retaliations. At last count, there have been three deaths that I know of over that one incident.
Horrible, horrible stuff. But organized? No.

PS: For the background on MS-13 (a gang that certainly does have its own unique character and history) this film is quiet good. And another very good film on the subject, “Hijos de la Guerra” will show in LA in October. (I’ll let you know as the time approaches.)


  • As you know, Newt Gingrich and many Republicans (and even some Dems) are playing up that two of the three were illegals out on parole for other felonies, are seeing this as a deport- the -illegal criminals immigration issue. But you don’t mention this status — by choice, or do you find they weren’t illegal?

  • Ms. Fremon, you cant compare LA sureno gangs to the MS. Since the creation of the gang, even when they were heavy metal gangsters and into the devil worshipering crap, they already had a sour taste in the mouths of all Mexican sureno based gangs. They never followed the “rules of respect” and it cost them to be excluded from any shot calling powers – even to this date, EME continues to have a negative attitude toward anyone that bangs the MS. They are lucky to have been allowed to place that “13” next to their gang name (I dont see why they are even allowed to associate the 13 and the MS together). Mostly all Mexican Based sureno gangs are not down with MS or its Salvadorian style killings.
    Cutting your enemy’s head and arms off with a machete in N. Carolina or other U.S. Eastern State will indeed make you into the most hated gang in the US – right behind terrorist groups.
    It was not the U.S. sureno gang culture that made them so violent and disrespectful. Its strictly the style of violence taught in EL Salvador and a complete break down in ethics, rules, and principles in the majority of El Salvador cities. This gang problem was a continued by-product of the 1960s civil wars and I put the blame on the Salvadorian Government and the US political big wigs.

  • Rather than blame gangs, let’s blame the individuals who commited murders–and the pathetic justice system that allowed them to roam the streets when they should be in prison or deported. This is nothing new. This has been a problem for many years and nothing gets done about it. Look at the progression:

    LINK: Illegal Aliens in Federal, State, and Local Criminal Justice Systems – June 30, 2000

    LINK: Child murders and illegal immigration – June 4, 2004

    LINK: Illegal Immigration an Issue in Newark Murders – August 13, 2007

    LINK: ???????? – Who’s next?

  • Oh, heck. My comment is awaiting moderation. Too many links apparently.

    Basically, I was classifying the murderers as individuals rather than gang members and the justice system that puts them on the streets as irresponsible. Then, I presented a progression of such crimes and asked, “Who’s next?” It needs to be asked and addressed before there are more murders.

  • poplock, your false association is unacceptable and isn’t a bit funny. I’m not going to lower myself to personal attacks and I suggest that you pull yourself out of that.

  • Its not a personal attack, its just the facts. Your GOP homie is getting his ass handed to him but you guys avoid the entire issue.
    You know, I always heard strange things about the YOUR GOP party, really kinky stuff….
    After the Murphy thingy, I’m starting to believe all those rumors of strict conservative Republicans having strange and weird fetishes.
    So, your suggestion goes in one ear and comes out of my butt. -I’m being nice too.

  • I’ve been lax in keeping up with the Newark story but I thought the accused there were Peruvian. Not that it matters. Whatdoes matter is the fact that there were out on parole. Why? Maybe to make room for drug offenders?

  • poplock, trust me. You would not want to get into a war of words with me. You’re outgunned and are short on ammunition. I respect Celeste enough not to trash her site with these attacks and have enough respect for myself not to lower myself to your standards. Be respectful and stay on topic.

  • “Be respectful and stay on topic.”

    You got to be kidding me…
    Your the biggest hyprocrite on this blog. Are you not the one that turns every topic and issue into a Conservative vs. Liberal war.
    I have no problem with a war of words….I love it.
    Your even free to talk about my mother, she’s a cool cholo.

  • poplock, it’s a sign of your mental inferiority that you resort to saying that I sleep with homosexuals rather than being able to defend your position or explain why mine is wrong. Perhaps you would be more comfortable hanging out at the Democratic Underground or the Daily Kos, where vulgarities are the rule rather than the exception.

  • I do not belive it was a hit towards them specific college students it seems random but i wouldnt put it past them them MS fools are pretty vicious when it comes to thier actions

  • poplock on your #2 comment thats really intresting you say that because i always wondered if surenos were that down with ms being they are doing all kinds of crazniess. in the prison system they are also considerd “others” but i fugured that they liked them becasue the whole ms13 next to thier gang but i am sure they pay taxes on that but yeah theses guys from ms also like to do alot of rapings and things of that nature towards women thats a no no in the south side code but whatever i guess its all political gang drama that just causes harm to innocent people like those college kids hey were can i find full story?

  • Poplock, I was hoping you would chime in on this MS-13 issue as I was sure you’d have interesting things to say—and you do, of course.

    Certainly, MS-13 is it’s own deal, because of its history and the way it evolved. But, I have to say, that gruesome chopped-off-the-head murder in—I think it was Virginia (but I may have it wrong too)—is the thing that is brought up over and over again, to prove how scary, scary, scary Mara Salvatrucha is. But, in this country, it ain’t representative.

    Central America is a whole different deal.

    I’m just entirely annoyed with them being painted by the media and the feds as Ultimate Boogey Men when, on a day to day basis, the worst of our problems aren’t MS-13. It’s a dumb place to focus.

    And, I’d bet the ranch that MS-13 had exactly zero to do with what happened in Newark—even if the older guys claimed membership.

  • I’ll bet my ranch against your ranch that MS-13 had as much to do with what happened in Newark as the influence of society and poverty had on the gangs. There may not be a direct correlation, but the values and methods were learned from the gangs.

    C., I appreciate your putting up with me, but why encourage trash talkers?

  • Are you getting me? MS13 are a bunch of thugs that are over rated. Yes, they do bad things to themselves, communities at large and still the youth innocense. They are no more dangerous than any other gang in the world. However, they are a little different in that they have international ties. Not all gangs can say that. As far as so called anti-gang activist or former gang members gone straight, please.Yes there may be a few who saw the light and got out in time to save their lives. However, many are just political puppets who appear to care and only do so so they get grants and other aid to promote their views. Alex Sanchez in LA can’t speak as to what MS13 does or represents in NJ. MS13 is no more of a dangreous gang then a group of 10 who go around and do home invasion. They are all cowards who get a rush out of intimidating communities. most of who MS intimidates are their own people. They target illegal immigrantknowing they will not call the police for fear of deportation, which in itself is not true. As a hispanic male from Central America, please understand that gangs are a way of life for many. These who chose this life suffer from low self esteem and need this way of life to feel powerful or create a identity. They ended up no where and maybe later in life turn to claiming to be a former gang member trying to help. And I am the Pope.

  • Naum, you raise a serious issue which affects policy and funding for “gang eradication” programs in Los Angeles. There are several people who have received funding from L A gang programs who have been convicted of re-committing crimes, and there are rumors tht what you say are true: the “many are just political puppets who appear to care and only do so so they get grants and other aid…and maybe later in life turn to claiming to be a former gang member trying to help.”

    It seems way too easy to manipulate well-meaning superliberals like our site hostess Celeste, who’s a very nice lady with a good heart, but I worry that we’re spending many millions of dollars on just these sorts of boondoggles.

    Janice Hahn is behind the push to put another tax on the ballot to fund gang programs which employ just these sorts of “former” or maybe bogusly former, gang members. Connie Rice wrote a report (costing taxpayers over %600K, I read), advising the City that we’d need a billion dollars to fund a full prevention-to-counselling gang program. Hahn and some others on the City Council are asking for $30-50 million in tax hikes as a start, as more palatable to the voters.

    Laura Chick advises against this, until she completes an analysis of how all the taxes raised so far are being spent, and questions the effectiveness of how gang monies have been spent so far. I totally agree with Chick. Besides the lack of fiscal accountability, the whole premise of the programs, the way they use “former” gang members to intercede with the community, needs to be thoroughly, rationally, examined. Or we could just be spending MORE money to fund these people who are good at manipulating the system, and nothing will improve.

    (P. S. to Woody: I see you exasperations with the less gentlemanly retorts of Poplock, but he and this poster bring a perspective we can’t possibly know first-hand about gangs and gang culture. Since they’re not benefiting by offering their opinion, it’s more sincere than the gangster “experts.”)

  • Just to make an important note, I feel deeply sorry for the stereotype that the MS gang brings upon its own Salvadorian people. If I was Salvadorian, I would be so proud in kicking the shit out of an MSer on a daily bases – hoping he dies in the hospital from head trauma. I have not had a hard working American/Salvadorian person in the U.S. disagree with me on the badly needed ass kicking extravaganza. I would go into details and example to prove my point, but wont because Woody will make all of this into a Conservative vs. Liberal issue.
    However, Naum brought up a good detail point that I was trying to make in a general statement of the “rules of respect.”
    In the 1990s, when MS was growing in numbers, strength, and dominated the area of Vermont, Hoover, and Melrose in Hollywood, Salvadorians (even grandmothers), documented or undocumented, were being repeately robbed by the same gang members. Robbering the people that resides on your own city block….come on! That’s a straight verde in any other sureno neighborhood. Even in those days, any sureno gangster that got the chance to beat down an MSer was blessed by everyone, even their own Salvadorian community supported it.
    The problem with the MS that continues to date was that LAPD failed to understand the consequences that this Salvadorian based gang and its war torn/civil unrest history would bring to the established rules of gang violence. In those days, the signs of violence were there but no one cared to listen or see it.
    I can go into my own stories of the ass kickings I did to a couple of MSers in Hollywood, but then again – someone here….hint hint..will turn it all into a political motivative agenda….lol.

    If you guys want more inside on the whole MS issue, let me know-your actually getting it from one of the best sources in LA – ME!!

    Alex Sanchez opinions is chopliver to me.

    Ms. Fremon, the head chopping incident is not the only incident in the U.S. There have been many more…..but I dont have the time to dig them up.

    I agree with Naum and Maggie with the stealing of money from these gangs funded programs – but its all on who is running them. I exclude Father-G. Father’s G-number one objective – serving gang members that want a better life or a change in lifestyle.
    Other organization are only to serve one person whether they use the Christian/Religious smoke screen or over some relative of theirs getting killed….its all about making that American dollar.

  • Woody, I’ve always thought there was something shady about AARP. Why are they so anxious to send people an “invitation” the minute they turn 50 and even before, to scream “You’re old!” I’ve known many a person to turn gray overnight upon getting those letters, and then literally go mad as they got offers for hearing aids, old folks’ homes… Yes, let’s dig up some gang activities on those guys, to stop them NOW.

  • About gang intervention programs, Maggie you’re right that there are a number of programs out there that take the money and do little or nothing of value, and the LA Bridges folks didn’t seem to know the difference. Former gang members with no abilities to actually run a program got money because they talked a good game—and convinced clueless City Hall types that they had “a license to operate,” so to speak, because they’d lived a gangster life, and so knew “what was up” with regard to helping to help kids.

    Some of those people are very well-intentioned and can be inspiring public speakers, but their administrative skills are sorely lacking. In other words, they can’t run a program.

    Then there are the scam artists who got funded like Hector Marroquin of No Guns. Most people I know got no where near him as you could see his BS coming a mile away. So when the whole thing blew up, color us not surprised.

    Yet, while there are the Hector Marroquins of the world out there, there are also people running small but very useful non-profit programs because they’ve gathered the right people around them, they keep their goals simple and clear, and continue to grow as executive directors and gang specialists. Alex Sanchez and Homies Unidos, is one of those, as is Blinky Rodriguez, and, in some ways, Ageela Sherrils. Unless you know these men personally and have seen specifically what they do, guys I strongly suggest you don’t know what you’re talking about in dismissing them.

    And yes, Father Greg Boyle’s Homeboy Industries is the one program that stands out head and shoulders above most of the rest. It’s been around for 20 years, as of 2008. It’s self sustaining— meaning, it doesn’t need city or county money to operate (although homeboy applies for grants like anybody else), and it knows what it does and does it well. It saves lives. Period. And it has zero to do with the fashionable B.S. of forming gang truces.

    I’m for Laura Chick’s audit in principal, but I worry that she’s not even remotely prepared to do an effective assessment. We’ll, see. It’s better than nothing.

    And, Maggie, you’re right I’m a nice lady. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, and by nature I’m likely a mom first, a reporter second. But don’t ever mistake me as naive, especially when it comes to gangs.

  • Correction, on Sanchez, I dont know him personally, so his the exception to all my comments. But I know I can get the 411 on him with a couple of phone calls. But the rest of them, believe me, I know them personally and the dirt is good….really good. Its not even dirt, its straight mud.

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