Ayn Rand issued many oft-repeated admonitions—almost all relating to the requirements of reason. None is more famous than “Check your premises,” which could be called Clue #1 in solving the eerie mystery that drives Atlas Shrugged. Another is “Context, context, context!”
In my neck of the woods, Long Island, the newspapers and news shows are alight with stories of arrests and indictments in the little township of Brentwood. Last September, this suburban town of 60,000 began to discover bodies in the woods: seven of them by the end of that month--all teenagers, most from the same school, all beaten, hacked, or stabbed to death. Two were girls only 15--one black, one Latina--lifelong best friends and school basketball players. The two girls had been slain while fleeing for their lives, brought down by baseball bats and machetes, then finished off as they lay helpless.
Police were criticized for permitting a situation like this to develop. All suspicions were focused on a gang called M-13 [“Mara Salvatrucha”], teenagers from El Salvador who were students in the Brentwood Union Free School District. But no arrests were made at that time, nor for six months, until now, when local police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) broke the case.
Tonight, 13 gang members are arrested and charged in a 41-count indictment; except for two who were juveniles when the murders were committed, those arrested face the death penalty or life in prison. The oldest is 21.
Once upon a time, as the fairytale begins, these arrests might have been reported as an achievement of law enforcement; the crimes deplored; the victims mourned.
Ten Out of 13 Illegal Aliens
But, this evening, Breitbart News, reporting the story as of national significance, emphasized that 10 of the 13 men indicted for the crime are “undocumented aliens,” illegal immigrants from Latin America, in this instance, El Salvador. In view of the national furor about “vetting” refugees and immigrants to exclude those presenting risks to Americans, Breitbart is warranted in giving this horrific story, and the dominance of illegal immigrants in the crime, prominence.
But “context, context, context”: Is this the full and most appropriate context for understanding the significance of this story?
Certainly, there are absolutes; they are the facts: the bullet in the chest of the “Wet Nurse” as Rearden lifts and carries him toward help that is to come too late. Two murdered girls lying in the woods are absolute. It is to understand the significance of facts in our lives that requires context. Is the significance of the Brentwood murders the illegal immigration status of 10 out of 13 of those indicted in the brutal murders? They are in the country illegally, all attending school at taxpayer expense. On the evening of Sept. 13, members of the M-13 gang were cruising the streets looking for members of a rival gang to kill. Instead, they spotted Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas walking together.
Apparently, after a check with the gang leader, they receive permission to kill the girls, with whom gang members had had some altercation (not yet revealed) in the school. They pulled alongside the two, leaped from the car, then chased them down the street and into the woods. The girls ran for their lives, but pursuing gang members brought them down with baseball bats, then killed them with bats and a machete.
As Breitbart emphasizes, this gang comprises illegal immigrants to America, and it is not a Brentwood, NY, problem:
The MS-13 gang, one of the most notorious street gangs in the Western Hemisphere, was formed in the 1980s in Los Angeles but now extends from Central American nations like El Salvador through Mexico, the United States and Canada, according to Insightcrime.org.
Welcome to “globalization”; the gang in Brentwood is part of what the FBI says is a gang with “tens of thousands of members” in several Central American countries. In other words, there are plenty more like these young suspects waiting to cross our southern border. The FBI says that M-13 is building up its “presence” in the United States by smuggling members over the border and recruiting here in schools.
So yes, illegal immigration is one relevant context, but consider that many great waves of immigrants to America—Italians, Chinese, Irish, Russians—have bred gangs and violence. During the great immigrations from Europe at the end of the 19th Century and in the 1920’s, many Americans feared the newcomers who brought poverty and crime. In fact, to this day, the country has not rid itself of the “organized crime,” or “crime families,” from Sicily and elsewhere in Europe. But, often at great cost, law enforcement has dealt with the criminals as what they are--criminals—and most of us don’t view those earlier waves of immigration as negative.
The Danger of “Black Lives Matter”
Today, there is another context: attitudes toward law enforcement. So far, there has been no outcry against police and the FBI for what news media describes as “aggressive,” “intensive” law enforcement that focused on Brentwood after the seven murders were discovered last September. We have not heard from “Black Lives Matter,” although one of the girls was Black, one Latina.
If the M-13 gang was known to be operating in little Brentwood, and the nature of that gang nationwide—and beyond—was known, why did law enforcement officers “pour into” the area only after the seven brutal slayings? In fact, law enforcement did know because, since 2010, 30 murders in New York City, adjacent northern New Jersey, and Long Island have been blamed on M-13.
There are reports, following the violent condemnation of police officers whose attempts to restrain or arrest suspects have led to the death of a black man, that the police have drastically reduced such encounters. The greatest pressure to do so has come from the organization “Black Lives Matter.” Since it began in 2013, as a social media movement, BLM has enjoyed a virtual fireworks celebration of media attention. U.S. media outlets have elevated police law-enforcement actions into a national crisis for Black Americans—an implied genocide.
I have written about this at length and need not repeat, here. A context is needed to understand the disaster that BLM and its media allies may cause. That context can be seen in one summary quotation from the work of Heather MacDonald, a scholar at the New York City think-tank, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Studies. A Stanford University-trained lawyer who did her graduate study at Cambridge University, MacDonald now specializes in policy on crime and law enforcement. She writes:
Every year, approximately 6,000 blacks are murdered in the United States. This is a number greater than white and Hispanic homicide victims combined … Blacks are killed at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined …. Who is killing them? Not the police … but other blacks …. Blacks of all ages commit homicide at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined, and at eleven times the rate of whites alone.
During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly asserted that the situation of Black Americans in their own inner-city neighborhoods was “horrific” and “appalling” because of crime—not racist attitudes and violence on the part of police. During the campaign, and since, Chicago has become synonymous with the crime wave in our cities. In a two-part article for the Washington Post, MacDonald wrote:
Chicago is the country’s most shocking example of what I have called the Ferguson effect: the phenomenon of police officers in high-crime areas backing off of proactive policing, resulting in the emboldening criminals. With investigatory stops down 82 percent through most of 2016 compared with 2015, there were over 3,400 shootings in Chicago last year. One person was shot every two hours on average. The police shot just over 25 people, or 0.6 percent of all total shootings…. The biggest challenge facing the CPD today is how to encourage officers to reengage with criminal suspects.
Has the “Ferguson effect” been at work in the heavily minority neighborhoods of Long Island nearest to the New York City borough of Queens? I know of no statistical evidence, now, but several of the widely reported violent demonstrations following police actions that turned fatal have been in New York City.
The “De Blasio Effect”?
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio ran in 2013 promising to end “stop and frisk” and improve relations between the NYPD and black and Hispanic New Yorkers. Not surprisingly, his time in office has witnessed a spike in anti-police protests and disaffection with law enforcement. He has been accused by the NYPD union of putting the interests of protesters above those of the police. He initiated new “de-escalation” training for officers…and oversaw the beginning of body cameras worn by police. De Blasio approved a $41-million settlement for the five men whose convictions in the 1989 Central Park jogger case were overturned—to the outrage of officers, attorneys, families, and others who saw the new trial as a “put up job.” (Don’t miss the linked story.)
Perhaps police officers in De Blasio’s old neighborhood were too busy with “de-escalation training,” “improving relations” with black and Hispanic New Yorkers, ending “stop and frisk,” and adjusting their body cameras to run around after members of the M-13 gang. They might have figured that if “aggressive” crime prevention “escalated” into a death, the City was unlikely to back up its police officers.
We wonder if the support of the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force, after the bodies were found in Brentwood last September, strengthened the resolve of the police officers. Or wonder if it may have been seeing the bodies of two teenaged girls who ran for their lives and then died by “swinging baseball bats and machetes.” Or if it was telling their parents.
[Update: two alleged MS-13 gang members in Houston,18 and 22, were a charged with killing a Hispanic girls in a “Satanic ritual.” The men are illegal immigrants from El Salvador. Other gang members were arrested in Santa Cruz County and Daly City, California on charges including murder by Department of Homeland Security agents.]
Walter Donway is a novelist, poet, and writer about contemporary issues from the perspective of Objectivism. His most recent novel, about the 1970’s New Left violence, is The Way the Wind Blew. His articles for TAS publications, his presentations at summer seminars, and his contributions to this site can be found in the archives. His most recent book, Not Half Free: The Myth that America is Capitalist, with a preface by David Kelley, is a comprehensive look at loss of economic freedom in America; it is available on Amazon.
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What Obama Got and Missed on Mistrusting Police by Alexander R. Cohen
Who Will Save Us from “Black Lives Matter”?