- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York lawmakers are hoping to battle deadly MS-13 gang violence with a proposal that could keep gang members behind bars longer.

The Republican-led Senate approved a bill Monday to increase penalties for crimes connected to street gangs and create new crimes for gang involvement.

Supporters say the bill is especially necessary in light of a string of killings on Long Island this year of mostly young people. At least 11 violent deaths since September in blue-collar communities Brentwood and Central Islip have been attributed to a street gang with Central American ties, MS-13.

The proposal, the state’s first legal definition of criminal street gangs, would also create model curriculums for schools related to education and gang violence prevention.

Republican Senator Martin Golden from Brooklyn, a former New York City police officer who is sponsoring the bill, said a dual-pronged approach would give prosecutors tools to for tracking gang activity, as well as prevent gang formation and recruitment be educating young people.

The bill defines a street gang as “an association in fact of two or more individuals identified by a common name, sign, dress, symbols, tattoos, or other mark or markings.” Some Democrats said it’s too broad and would allow for criminalization of non-gang members.

“What I hope I won’t see with this bill is if you see four men on the corner, when they’re black they’re a gang, when they’re not, they’re just four men on the corner,” said Brooklyn Sen. Jesse Hamilton, a Democrat.

Hamilton said truly addressing gang violence would involve education and employment to keep individuals from joining gangs and rehabilitative services for gang members who have left prison facilities.

Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, a Brooklyn Democrat, urged lawmakers to come up with a way to address MS-13 gang activity that would not affect young people of her district who are cycling in the park or “gathered on the streets, looking alike, but in no way in any way considered to be a gang.”

The bill, which has passed the Senate in previous years, now heads to the Democratic-dominated Assembly.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has in recent weeks also taken up the issue of gang violence, with press events in Long Island, Albany and Rochester highlighting additional state resources for law enforcement to combat gang violence across the state.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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