- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Law-enforcement and youth services officials say that “statement crimes” committed by Hispanic gangs to establish their presence have inspired brazen attacks, including a recent spate of stabbings and slashings in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

“Those kinds of attacks would be to send a message — ‘We’re in town’ or ‘We’re taking over,’” said Steve Nawojczyk, who works in youth services in Little Rock, Ark.

“Many times their violent acts are simply to establish their reputations as the meanest and the baddest around,” said Mr. Nawojczyk, whose Web site www.gangwar.com has been cited by several news organizations and publications nationally.

According to statistics compiled by Virginia State Police and Maryland State Police, the number of aggravatedassaults and murders committed with knives has increased by about 2.5 percent in each state since 2001.

“This is nothing new,” said Detective Patrick Word of the Gaithersburg Police Department, vice chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Gang Investigators Network.

Detective Word said knives, which are easy to acquire and get rid of, have been used for decades among gangs of all races.

But as authorities have tracked the growth of the Salvadoran MS-13 street gang in the region, knifings have become more violent in broad daylight and public places.

Over the past two weeks, there have been five stabbings or slashings in Hispanic communities in Langley Park, Colesville and Wheaton that have killed two and injured nine persons.

The violence in the Hispanic community first captured the attention of the public, the police and politicians in May 2004, when a 16-year-old boy was attacked by MS-13 members with a machete in Fairfax County, officials said.

The boy, a member of a rival gang, lost four fingers on his left hand and a finger on his right hand as he tried to defend himself against the assault.

Mr. Nawojczyk said such brazen attacks often inspire copycats or more brutal efforts at revenge, as gang members try to outdo their rivals.

“Gangs are fueled by the three R’s,” he said, “respect, reputation and retaliation.”

Some of the most brazen attacks, such as when someone used what police described as a “large knife” to slash the throats of three day laborers, killing two of them and critically injuring a third, don’t appear to have gang ties.

Detective Word said the use of a blade to commit a crime in the Hispanic community can often be traced to the trades many immigrants are skilled in. Many crimes in which a weapon used falls under the blanket term “knife” actually are committed with box cutters, utility knives, carpet cutters or other tradesmen’s tools, he said.

“I don’t think [the choice of the weapon] has anything to do with gang activity,” the detective said. “I think it’s their lifestyle, what they’re familiar with.”

In the District, police said just over 100, or 11 percent, of the 941 killings recorded between 2001 and 2004 were committed using knives or other sharp objects.

That figure is identical to the 11 percent of killings committed with knives or other sharp objects in the District from 1998 to 2000.

Officials in Fairfax County said there has not been a recent, noticeable increase in stabbings. However, they said stabbing statistics are not kept separately but are categorized under “malicious wounding,” which includes any action that punctures the skin.

Arlington County police lump stabbings with aggravated assaults. While the county had 200 aggravated assaults last year, police said stabbings are infrequent.

“It’s just not something we see a lot of,” said Matt Martin, a spokesman with the Arlington County Police Department.

In Alexandria, 24 stabbings last year were reported between Jan. 1 and Aug. 15. Twenty-six were reported this year during the same period, including six persons who were stabbed during a retirement home rampage in January.

Alexandria police spokesman Capt. John Crawford said it is possible that stabbings get more attention because of the brutality of the crimes.

“Maybe it is getting more attention,” he said. “Whenever you hear ‘stabbing’ or ‘cutting’ it rises to a much higher level, especially a stabbing into a vital organ. It instantly becomes a trauma.”

• Amy Doolittle contributed to this report.

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