Wednesday, August 6, 2003

Local law-enforcement agencies say they are concerned that a spate of gang violence that has erupted in the District in the past two weeks could spread to the suburbs.

“It’s not like we can turn our backs on what’s going on in another jurisdiction because these gangs are mobile,” said Lt. Susan Culin, commander of the Fairfax County Police Youth Services Division. “Their problem is our problem, too,”

Since July 26, four persons have been killed and five others injured in the District in a series of shootings the Metropolitan Police Department has classified as “gang-related.”

Metropolitan Police Cmdr. Hilton Burton said yesterday the violence stems from two disputes between two Latino gangs based in the Hispanic communities of Northwest.

One dispute involves a large Hispanic gang called La Mara R, which operates from 17th and R streets NW and takes its name from a Spanish slang word for “clique.” The other gang called “1-5 Crew” is smaller and based around 15th Street NW.

The other dispute involves gangs called Street Thug Criminals, or STC, and Vatos Locos, which translates loosely to “crazy men.”

“Why each one of their conflicts started, we don’t know specifically,” Cmdr. Burton said. “When you’re dealing with gangs, it’s always simmering.”

He said Monday’s shooting in an alley at the 1700 block of Columbia Road NW resulted in two arrests of two men, one of whom was a gang leader. The victim suffered non-life-threatening wounds. Police hope the arrests may prevent another retaliatory shooting.

“Usually they coexist,” Cmdr. Burton said, adding that a feud could start because of a real or perceived slight, and could escalate because those involved are “young, immature people who are spurned.”

“Most of the [gang members] don’t know how to stop it because they’re living in a tit-for-tat, confrontational world,” he said.

One gang not involved in the recent violence in the District is MS-13, which stands for Mara Salvatrucha.

Fairfax’s Lt. Culin said there are an estimated 3,000 members of the Salvadoran gang MS-13 in Northern Virginia. MS-13 originated in the late 1980s when refugees with La Mara, a street gang in El Salvador, joined forces with Salvadoran guerrillas, known as “salvatruchas.” Gang members settled in Latino communities in Los Angeles and the District, but have since spread to 15 states.

One of those states is Virginia.

The Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office said Monday that the death of 18-year-old Brenda Paz, whose body was found in the Shenandoah River’s North Fork on July 17, appears to have been gang-related. Miss Paz, of Fairfax, was a member of MS-13.

“Although all possibilities are still being left open, the focus of the investigation lies with the MS-13 connection,” Capt. Timothy C. Carter, chief deputy of the county sheriff’s office, wrote in a news release issued Monday, “MS-13 members responsible for this homicide appear to be linked to MS-13 of Northern Virginia.”

Lt. Culin said there are 82 identified gangs in Fairfax County. Two police supervisors and seven detectives work gang crimes in the county. An eighth detective manages information in a computer database.

Officials in Virginia and the District are quickly forming task forces or partnerships to combat gang violence.

Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore on Tuesday convened the first meeting of a newly created statewide antigang task force that could come up with solutions to the gang problem. The task force, which will meet again in October, is working on ways to better identify, define and prevent gang activity and to create new laws to appropriately punish gang crimes.

Also on Tuesday, Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey announced the formation of a gang-intervention partnership between government and community-based organizations to negotiate a truce to the gang violence.

Lori Kaplan, executive director of the Northwest-based nonprofit Latin American Youth Center, said there’s no one reason why Hispanic community youth are susceptible to the lure of gang life. But she said school dropout rates and difficulty finding employment create a sense of disenfranchisement among Hispanic youth.

She said she’s optimistic that the partnership can move from a reactive role in stopping gang violence to a pro-active role in addressing the social causes that lead to gang formation.

“I think people realize that no one sector, no one organization can deal with this,” Miss Kaplan said.

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