"The Most Dangerous Gang in America"?

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/89844773/89845715" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Earlier this month, a 19-year-old man in Maryland was convicted of fatally shooting a stranger, and prosecutors charge that he did it to make a name for himself in his gang, MS-13. It's been called "the most dangerous gang in America" and reaches throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador. Discovery en Espanol aired a documentary focused on the gang called, Maras: A Regional Threat. We'll talk with one of the producers of that documentary on the show today, and with a former member. If you have any personal experience with MS-13, or street gangs in general, tell us how it affected you.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

El Salvador former resident comments beg the question, are soon to come Iraq war refugees next in the cycle?

Sent by Susan Kolbe ("Kolb-ee") | 3:25 PM | 4-22-2008

One of your guests mentioned gangs of Hondurans and Salvadorans. What about of Guatemalans? If there are no significant Guatemalan gangs, do they have any insight as to why that may be?
(My sister has been living in Guatemala for at least 10 years working to help deal with the aftermath of the 30-year conflict that happened there.)

Sent by Margarita | 3:28 PM | 4-22-2008

I work with incarcerated youth in northern california and gangs are one of the biggest problem we have. Most youth in our facility are gang members, mostly nortenos (northeners).
My experiences are that the gang members have very little compassion, no empathy and their form of respect is fear. gang members are the hardest to rehabilitate. There are many causes for them to join but music and media are not helping when they promote being a "G".
A documentary to watch for MS13 is "de nadie"

Sent by withheld please | 3:29 PM | 4-22-2008

I am glad your speaker addressed the issue of US policies towards Central America in the 80's and how this helped give rise to our current gang problems. Ronald Reagan's inhumane funding of the brutal Salvadoran military to the tune of millions of dollars created violence and a refugee community that was forced to flee to the US. The US funding of the war in El Salvador should go down in the human rights hall of shame.

Sent by Ellen Catalina | 3:29 PM | 4-22-2008

I listen to the callers stress great sympathy for the life of El Salvadorians living in the US and abroad, with the problem placed squarely on the back of immigration reform. The poor people of a country, taken advantage of by the United States. El Salvador; one of many countries, which fails to hold their own government accountable for the plight of its own citizens.

My heart goes out to everyone who must endure this terrible thing, called life. Some of us are born into good, so-so and down right bad situations. It is what we do on the backs of these situations that make us human and ready to evolve. Why does a couple adopt a child from a third world country and shun one from his/her own country? Why does one feel such sorrow for one culture of people and lock their doors from another?

My issue is not with the callers. They have their own beliefs and motives. They are the same people who complain about higher taxes, teacher shortages, congestion on the roads, high food prices etc. they want a perfect system, in an imperfect world.

I listen to 89.3 FM,, for balance, dialogue and impartiality (redundant). Unfortunately, you are making yourself very clear on the stance for Immigration, I get it; we all get it.

Two (2) questions:

1) When or with whom does it stop ( MS 13, Triad, Yakuza, Hezbollah etc.) and every one associated with the stigma(Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Afghanistani etc.)?

2) When do you, as journalist stop thinking with your hearts and start thinking with your smarts. I don't want you to turn into another am 640; I just want both sides of the hard truths to be told within your 30minute sound bites. i.e. your kid is going to school and the teacher keeps falling asleep and your kid is not learning at the rate you think she/he should be. You speak with the principle and he tells you; the teacher is a single parent trying to get bye on ends meet and raise a child, while putting him/her self through school. You don't want to hear that ....; you want to know your child is getting the best education, to compete with other countries kids, who already have a leg up on yours.

P.S. I love what you are attempting to do..... Who knows, maybe one day I will donate.

Sent by Doesn???t matter | 2:55 AM | 4-23-2008

I found Susan Cruz's comments to be missing one specific element. At no time did she express any regret for the gang's brutal behavior. Her excuses mock all of the immigrants who lead peaceful and productive lives. I understand that our government's policies have led to a lot of Central America's problems, but I'm tired of being told that criminal activity and brutality is all the fault of America.

Sent by JKB | 10:30 AM | 4-23-2008

wow. there is a history and chain of events beginning in colonialism that have created the americas as they are today. read about it. it is our fault and trying to reverse it will take wholesale shifts - perhaps entirely different ways of opearating.

Sent by mkm | 8:07 PM | 4-23-2008

well this is amazing. I'm sure no one even researched the fact that MS-13 did not originate in the US what-so-ever. They orginally were a guerilla unit that held a coup against the government and when the takeover finished the next man that gained power tried to eliminate them all. Some fled to the US but others throughout the world. Sadly the one's that did assimilate into los angeles took these idea's and twisted them. now they are a viscious gang that's getting more and more organized.

Sent by a friend | 10:51 PM | 4-23-2008

It is sad that parents in general do not take responsibility and are letting "gangs" raise your children. What happend to parents leading the children, now it has come to where KIDS tell parents what to do and it is the parents who are afraid of disciplining thier own kids. That is BS. Sure there are gangs, but to allow them to run our lives is wrong!!

Sent by someone who cares | 4:22 PM | 4-24-2008

I received a phone call this evening. A family relative in Prince George's Co. MD was momentarily alone in a drug store parking lot in College Park last night. A car pulled up; about six Asians got out and beat him up. He will turn 19 next week while recovering in the hospital. He will survive but it sickens me. It numbs me. Another form of terrorism - that - will never, ever be brought under control. No form of power will ever extinguish the violence.

Sent by His loving Auntie | 1:04 AM | 4-26-2008

First of all, I want to thank NPR for the opportunity granted to speak on 'Talk of the Nation'; however, I would like to address a few comments made here.

1.) I am no gang apologist. I do not excuse nor condone violent acts perpetrated by gangs as a collective. My own actions are what I own up to. In that regard, I have paid my debt to society ten-fold and I continue to work towards helping our youth feel engaged and connected to their communities, work towards restoring justice and peace, work for the rights of vulnerable populations, both here in the U.S. and in Latin America.

Point the finger all you want, but in the end remember: gangs fill society's voids-at a high price.

What are you doing to fill those voids?

2.) My participation in this radio show was to provide clarification and dispel myths, such as the one stated by "friend" on 04/23/08. By all accounts, Mara Salvatrucha started in Los Angeles, California as a direct result of US foreign policy. The truth hurts. By way of US foreign policy, Salvadoran refugees settled in Los Angeles, CA and this is where the gang begins. By way of US domestic and economic policies, the gang grows thanks to deportations, extremely lengthy wait-times to become documented, failure on behalf of the US to recognize Salvadorans as refugees because the US financed the civil war in El Salvador, and so-called "free trade" agreements which cause deplorable and inhumane living conditions in Latin America. This, and other gangs, have been borne and bred thanks to taxpayer's contributions, especially those that focus on suppressive tactics alone.

Don't you think it's time you questioned your public officials and stakeholders about what they're doing with your money?

3.) Thank you to "mkm", Ellen Catalina, and Susan Kolbe. History indeed does repeat itself. Hopefully we'll learn from it someday.

We all want the same thing-a world where people find fulfillment and live in peace.

Susan Cruz

Sent by Susan Cruz | 9:52 PM | 4-27-2008

I feel sympathy for people who have experienced extreme violence which has warped their thinking and emotions. I feel sympathy for kids exposed to war and discrimination. I understand how general international policies can negatively affect specific people or populations.

But my sympathy ends when the victims of violence turn not into survivors but victimizers themselves. When they murder a man for his anti-gang music. When they try to stab a man *only* because of his country of origin. I don't care where someone was born or what color his skin is. When he commits violence against another, he has crossed the line. If he can find peace within himself and with others, then I will welcome him with open arms. If not, then he deserves to be punished within the limits of the law and human rights.

Sent by edam | 11:31 AM | 5-1-2008

Though it seems like the guests were either neutral or blaming the US for their not assimiliating into the relative peace America like other immigrants have, I was really dismayed by one caller. The fellow who was living abroad who over heard gang members who were planning to kill him really took my breath away with his excuses. He blamed deportation for the animosity of deporting his attackers back to their country. I suppose he would have been happier if they stayed illegally in America and killed Americans, leaving him safe to live abroad. What a guy.

Sent by Anthony Leach | 6:52 PM | 5-30-2008

Does anyone have the podcast of the Former Gang Member Details Life Inside MS-13 show? I really would like to have a copy on my computer. Thanks.

Sent by Michael Irvine | 10:42 AM | 6-4-2008

Thank You Susan

Sent by El Guanaco | 2:18 AM | 6-22-2008

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from