Since last October, Nassau County police have identified the bodies of six teenagers who were hacked to death with machetes by members of the El Salvadoran gang MS-13. After the most recent discovery of remains, in the woods behind Kellenberg High School in East Meadow, the angry comments came fast and furious on the East Meadow Herald’s Facebook page.
Two posts criticized police, saying law enforcement hadn’t paid proper attention to the area. Another post called for people to stop condemning police and instead blame elected leaders.
It’s about time that all of us stop playing the blame game. If we are to reduce crime on Long Island, we will need a concerted, united front that shows the gangbangers and drug pushers that all of us who abide by the law are looking out for one another — and are ready and willing to attack criminal activity in our backyard.
Between January 2017 and February 2018, more than 800 Nassau County residents overdosed on opioids, including heroin. Some 200 died. That’s what you call a full-fledged crisis, which is often directly related to gangs. MS-13 isn’t a cartel, law enforcement experts say. Rather, it is a loosely affiliated network of smaller gangs that engage in street-level drug dealing — in particular, of heroin — and human trafficking.
This spring, police adopted a multi-pronged approach to tackling the opioid epidemic by identifying and targeting the communities that have been most affected by it. Many people welcomed the effort, while others resorted to blaming anyone and everyone, from police officers to parents, school administrators to students.
All of this brings to mind Episode 22 of “The Twilight Zone,” titled “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” In it, a dark shadow passes over a perfectly normal neighborhood with friendly people. There’s a sudden loss of power, and weird doings follow. Cars won’t start. There’s talk of an alien invasion.
As night falls, a shadowy figure walks into the neighborhood. One man fires a shotgun at the figure, thinking it must be an alien. As it turns out, it’s not; it’s a neighbor. In the end, we learn that it was indeed aliens that were playing tricks on the neighborhood to get people to turn on one another, which they did.
The episode, which aired 58 years ago, should serve as an object lesson for us today. It is an acutely accurate metaphor for the situation that Nassau now finds itself in. Rather than turn on one another, we must all work together to defeat the aliens — the gangs, the drug dealers — that are invading our neighborhoods.
That begins by recognizing that we have serious problems that require attention. Gang slayings were once seen as a problem confined to the inner city. Six, however, have taken place in perfectly normal, middle-class neighborhoods over the past year, including Baldwin, East Meadow, Freeport-Merrick and Massapequa.
Massapequa, police tell us, has long been the epicenter of the heroin crisis in Nassau County, but the crisis exists in any of our local communities. Suburban parents can no longer say, “Not my child.” School administrators can no longer say, “Not my school.” Elected leaders can no longer say, “Not my district.” The gang and drug crises are all of our problems.
That’s why we must support Problem Oriented Policing, in which officers are assigned to act as community liaisons with residents and local leaders to identify trouble spots within communities and develop strategies to fix them.
We must support after-school programs to keep young people in safe environments in which they feel supported and can develop their interests and skills.
Nassau County must hold community forums to get the word out about the gang and drug crises. Parents need the best possible information so they can talk with their children in an informed way.
And parents must take the time to speak with their kids on a regular basis. Parents, it’s been said, are the drug antidote. We agree.
At the same time, we mustn’t turn on one another. We must remember who our enemies are. Police are not the enemy. School administrators and teachers are not the enemy. Parents and children are not the enemy.
Gangbangers and drug dealers are. Period.