- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2003

D.C. police, who have been struggling in recent years to stem street violence, now have to reckon with warring Salvadoran gangs. Recently, the Columbia Heights area in Northwest has become a hot spot for much of the violence. The bloodletting comes amid the Metropolitan Police Department’s knowledge that the gangs have become more brazen after three-plus years of continued violence. Moreover, a little-known executive order appears to be abetting the gangs and handicapping police.

A bloodbath on July 28 is particularly disturbing. Four men were gunned down Monday evening, one of them fatally, during a drive-by shooting at a strip mall in Columbia Heights. The shootings — which occurred about 7 p.m., striking fear in the hearts of pedestrians, residents and business owners alike — was apparently in retaliation for the slaying of another Salvadoran bicycling in the area on July 26. The bicyclist was believed to be a member of the “Mara R” gang. Though the police arrested the shooter after witnessing the incident from an unmarked vehicle, they were unable to prevent gang members from taking matters into their own hands. Reportedly they were also unable to make any arrests following Monday’s slaughter. Street justice is the last thing the District needs.

The shootings hint at a larger, regional problem. “The increase [in gang activity] has been fueled by immigrants, largely Salvadoran, who bring a ‘gang culture’ from their native country,” Fairfax County Police have said. “Most metropolitan-area gang members are from El Salvador.”

Because of El Salvador’s “revolutionary insurgency and repression” in the 1970s, a huge illegal immigrant flow has poured into the District, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform. By 1996, the region’s Salvadoran population had reached 485,000, an increase of 53 percent since 1990.

While many Salvadorans are indeed in the United States legally, many are not. The problem is that D.C. police are prohibited from asking suspects about their immigration status. Currently, a 1984 mayoral order disallows the involvement of D.C. employees, including law-enforcement officers, in immigration affairs. Without cooperation and communication between immigration officials and D.C. police officers, many Salvadoran gang members have gone scot-free after performing their violent deeds — with illegal guns, we might add.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham and his constituents are tired of hearing gunshots. So are we. It is time for Mayor Williams to untie the hands of the city’s police officers and rescind the executive order regarding immigrants. How much longer will the bloodletting go on before the mayor and his police chief, Chuck Ramsey, see red?

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