GANG MEMBER TO ACTIVIST

We’ll talk to a former gang member who’s now helping to bring an end to the violence plaguing Long Island.

For more information on STRONG Youth, click here. 

Aired on December 5, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> KAYLA AND LISA WERE CLOSE FRIENDS ON LONG ISLAND.

BUT IN SEPTEMBER 2016 ON THE EVE OF NISA'S 16th BIRTHDAY, SUCH A HAPPY TIME IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN, NEITHER OF THEM CAME HOME.

THESE TWO PRECIOUS GIRLS WERE BRUTALLY MURDERED WHILE WALKING TOGETHER IN THEIR HOMETOWN.

SIX MEMBERS OF THE SAVAGE MS-13 GANG HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH KAYLA AND NISA'S MURDERS.

THAT WAS PRESIDENT TRUMP HONORING THE PARENTS OF 16-YEAR-OLD KAYLA AND 15-YEAR-OLD NISA WHO WERE SLAIN BY THE NOTORIOUS MS 13 GANG.

THE TRAGIC STORY HAS BECOME A FLASH POINT FOR THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION'S CRACKDOWN ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS.

APPROXIMATELY 400 PEOPLE SUSPECTED OF GANG ACTIVITY HAVE ARRESTED IN SUFFICIENT FOLK COUNTY AND LOCAL AND FEDERAL AUTHORITIES ARE SHOWING NO SIGNS OF SLOWING DOWN.

BUT ONE CONCERN HAS ARISEN.

AS OFFICIALS CONTINUE TO AMP UP EFFORTS TO THE END OF THE VICIOUS GANG, QUESTION IS BEING RAISED COULD THEY BE RISK THE DUE PROCESS OF SOME IMMIGRANTS IN THE COMMUNITY?

COUNTY EXECUTIVES ARE STEPPING IN AND OFFERING A NEW AND PERHAPS LESS ABRASIVE WAY TO TACKLE THE PROBLEM OF GANG VIOLENCE.

AND THAT IS PREVENTION PROGRAMS.

IN BRENTWOOD, THE STRONG YOUTH ORGANIZATION HAS WORKED TO KEEP CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE AWAY FROM GANGS.

THEY WILL CONTINUE THIS EFFORT ALONGSIDE THE COUNTY NOW $500,0.

WE'RE PLEASED TO BE JOINED BY E ACTIVIST SERGIO ARQUETTE WHO USED TO BE A EASTMEMBER OF A GA HIMSELF.

HOW WAS IT THAT YOU GOT INVOLVED IN A GANG AS A YOUNG PERSON?

AS A YOUNG PERSON GROWING UP IN EL MENTALLY SCHOOL, I WAS LIKE EVERY OTHER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL KID, WANTING TO DO GOOD AND BE SUCCESSFUL IN LIFE.

IF YOU ASKED MY CLASSMATES AND I WHAT WE WANTED TO BE WHEN WE GROW UP, YOU WOULD HEAR THINGS LIKE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND LAWYER AND PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE.

AND WE ALL HAD THESE WONDERFUL DREAMS.

BUT AS WE GOT OLDER AND THE RESOURCES WERE LACKING AND YOU KNOW YOU START SEEING SOME OF THE DEFICITS IN TERMS OF WHAT EXISTS IN THE COMMUNITY, YOUNG PEOPLE ARE DRAWN TO CERTAIN THINGS.

AND FOR ME, THERE WAS A LOT OF VIOLENCE IN THE COMMUNITY AND UNFORTUNATELY I THOUGHT THAT, YOU KNOW, THIS GROUP OF FRIENDS, INDIVIDUALS THAT LITERALLY I HAD GROWN UP, WE WERE GOING TO PROTECT ONE ANOTHER AND SORT OF NOT BE VICTIMS TO THIS VIOLENCE.

AND THEN BEFORE YOU KNOW IT, YOU TOO START PERPETUATING THAT VIOLENCE.

THAT'S REALLY WHAT HAPPENED IN MY LIFE.

WHAT IS THE LURE, DO YOU THINK, TODAY FOR YOUNG PEOPLE WHO ARE IN SOME WAYS BEING SEDUCED INTO JOINING THESE GANGS?

YOU KNOW, THE LURE IS PRETTY MUCH THE SAME THINGS THAT EXISTED WHEN I WAS A CHILD.

OFTEN TIMES VIOLENCE EXISTS IN THE COMMUNITIES, THIS ISN'T NEW.

AND YOUNG PEOPLE FEEL BY JOINING A GANG THEY HAVE A SENSE OF PROTECTION, INDIVIDUALS THAT DON'T HAVE STRONG SUPPORT NETWORKS, NO PUN INTENDED.

THEY DON'T HAVE A LOT OF FRIENDS AND THINGS OF THAT NATURE, ALL OF A SUDDEN THERE'S A SOCIAL ASPECT TO THIS.

THERE'S ALSO, YOU KNOW, INDIVIDUALS THAT ARE LOOKING TO BECOME A PART OF SOMETHING.

AND THERE ARE THOSE THAT ARE BULLIED INTO THIS.

THE BELIEF IS, YOU KNOW, I'M BEING BULLIED RIGHT NOW.

IF I JOIN THIS GANG, I'LL BE PROTECTED.

I'LL HAVE FRIENDS.

THEY'RE NOT GOING TO MAKE FUN OF ME AS MUCH.

AND YOU KNOW, UNFORTUNATELY, THERE'S A -- THERE IS SORT OF A PREDATORY BEHAVIOR THAT BEGINS TO PLAY OUT IN TERMS OF, YOU KNOW, ONCE YOU BECOME A PART OF A GANG.

LET'S TALK ABOUT -- I MENTIONED THE STRONG YOUTH PROGRAM THAT'S BEEN AROUND FOR DECADES NOW.

WHAT SORT OF PROGRAMS ARE YOU OFFERING THAT WILL HOPEFULLY DIVERT YOUNG PEOPLE AWAY FROM THE GANG MEMBERSHIP AND ALLOW THEM TO PROCEED IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS?

YOU KNOW, WE HAVE A CLINICAL TEAM THAT WORKS WITH THESE INDIVIDUALS IN TERM OF THEIR COUNSELING, YOU KNOW, LOOKING AT THERAPEUTIC APPROACHES TO DEALING WITH THE SISSUES THAT THESE YOUNG PEOPLE MIGHT BE DEALING WITH.

REALLY FOCUSING ON CREATING AN ATMOSPHERE WITH ADOLESCENTS ARE ABLE TO STRENGTHEN THEIR RELATIONSHIPS WITH THEIR PARENTS.

UNFORTUNATELY MANY OF OUR YOUNG PEOPLE MAY BE A LITTLE BIT DISTANT FROM SOME OF THEIR PRIMARY CAREGIVERS.

IT'S ABOUT RECONDITIONING, REP STRENGTHENING FAMILIES.

THAT'S THE MOTTO WE USE.

IT'S CLEAR THIS IS AN ENORMOUSLY CRITICAL PROBLEM FOR US TO DEAL WITH.

AS IMPORTANT AS IT IS TO GET VIOLENT PREDATORS OFF THE STREET, WE NOW KNOW WE CAN'T ARREST OUR WAY OUT OF THIS PROBLEM.

SO, WE ARE CERTAINLY THANKFUL, SERGIO, TO YOU, YOUR GROUP, ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE OUT THERE WHO ARE DOING SUCH GOOD WORK TO COMBAT THIS.

WE APPRECIATE IT.

THANK YOU FOR TAKING TIME AND FILLING US IN ON THE WORK YOU'RE DOING.

YOU CONTINUE TO DO THAT GOOD WORK AND YOU BE WELL.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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