From television shows and movies, we know housing projects are rife with crime: women raped, children shot, men beaten.
But no matter how bad it gets, if you live in the projects, you don’t call the cops. Why?
For one, a 911 call from the projects is seldom answered. Emergency calls from housing estates known for trouble are not handled like calls from other neighborhoods; that is, they’re ignored.
This means that if you live in the projects, you learn to handle emergencies yourself, and dial 911 only in the most extreme emergencies.
In one example that the author witnessed, a man was physically assaulting a woman. Residents got together and beat up the man, instead of calling the police. And because a call for an ambulance probably wouldn’t be answered either, residents drove the woman to the hospital themselves.
That said, even if the police did show up, they probably wouldn’t be welcomed in the projects.
Residents often throw bottles at cops when they respond to a call; worse, they can be shot at, too.
The police aren’t entirely innocent, either. Some officers of the law have been seen abusing residents, as part of a blackmail scheme.
“Officer Jerry,” for example, runs a protection racket. The author once witnessed him and three other police officers enter an apartment, handcuff a teenager and then brutally beat the teen’s father while demanding money.
Once the father revealed the location of his cash, the officers stopped, uncuffed the teen, grabbed a paper bag the father pointed out and left.
The author was even warned against writing about corrupt cops by other honest police officers, who were concerned about his safety. They even told him that some of the corrupt officers broke into the author’s car, intending to steal his notebook.
Gang activity almost always means crime and violence. Yet this assumption is only part of the story, when looking at the local activities of the Chicago gang, Black Kings.
A gang can provide some semblance of order and safety on its turf. Gang members, for example, would escort elderly women on their shopping errands, to keep them safe from muggers.
In one instance, the author witnessed a family whose apartment door had fallen off its hinges. Unable to protect themselves or their property, the family was extremely vulnerable to the project’s thieves and drug addicts.
Yet gang members were stationed as guards in the stairwell to prevent anyone from entering the apartment and stealing. Gang members as well shut down a crack den operating in a nearby vacant apartment, to prevent addicts from taking advantage of the situation.
At the end of last week, the caravan arrived on the doorstep to Mexico. Under pressure from the U.S., Mexico offered the migrants asylum but said it would only let in groups of 150 to 200 people a day to process their requests. Anyone crossing the border illegally would be deported, Mexican officials warned.
The Honduran government estimates that 2,000 migrants returned home. Mexico says another 1,000 or so have applied for asylum. But the majority—about 5,000, according to the Mexican government—crossed the border illegally, mostly on rickety rafts run by human smugglers.
.. “We can’t get to the northern border all together” said Irineo Mujica, the head of People without Borders, a U.S.-Mexico nonprofit that has backed the caravan since its arrival in Guatemala. Such a huge group moving across Mexico days before the U.S. midterms, he added, would embolden Mr. Trump. “If this full caravan arrives to the U.S. border, it would be like a declaration of war,” Mr. Mujica said.
.. Most migrants say they want to get to the U.S. but generally don’t know what legal options they have ahead. Many said they were determined to abandon Honduras, which has among the world’s highest rates of violence. When they saw news on television that a caravan had left from San Pedro Sula heading north, many thought it was the right moment to leave.
.. She said a criminal gang extorted her family business and demanded a “war tax,” calling it that because “if you don’t pay the gang destroys your business and kills you.”
.. For many would-be migrants, leaving in a caravan is attractive because they can avoid paying some $5,000 in smugglers’ fees and are safer traveling in numbers... “Most Mexicans are sympathetic to the migrants, so politically it becomes very difficult for the government to move against the caravan given it has such visibility,” he said. “On the other hand, you don’t want to anger the U.S. and be seen as just allowing migrants to cross through your country freely.”.. On Sunday, Mr. Trump warned the migrants on Twitter that if they didn’t accept Mexico’s offer of asylum, they would be denied entry to the U.S. He said Monday the caravan included “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners,” without offering evidence... For fiscal year 2019, the U.S. plans to send about
- $70 million in aid to Guatemala,
- $66 million to Honduras and
- $46 million to El Salvador,
according to the State Department. Most of the funds go to
- violence prevention,
- justice and rule-of-law programs, along with
- funding for border and narcotics enforcement.
.. Cutting aid to Central American countries would be a mistake, since U.S. aid dollars fund programs that reduce violence, strengthen the justice system, and encourage investment that make them more attractive places for their citizens, said Marcela Escobari, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
.. Studies have shown that once a country’s GDP per capita reaches between $6,000 and $8,000, the gains from migrating somewhere become less attractive, who served under President Barack Obama as head of Latin America for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“We need to stop these countries from becoming failed states, because that’s what’s going to cause a tremendous exodus,” she said.
.. Immigrants asking for U.S. asylum either at a legal border crossing or upon being arrested by the Border Patrol for crossing illegally are subjected to a “credible fear” interview to decide if their request should be heard by an immigration judge. More than 75% of immigrants pass the so-called “credible fear bar,” according to U.S. government statistics. Those who don’t pass that initial interview are subject to deportation.
.. Immigration authorities can jail asylum seekers until their case is decided, but bed space is at a premium as the Trump administration steps up immigration enforcement both at the border and in the U.S. interior.
For those released into the U.S., a final decision could take years amid a backlog of more than 764,000 cases pending in federal immigration court. During that time, they can live in the U.S. and apply work permits, something Mr. Trump has repeatedly criticized.
Administration officials told reporters that the government had reunited 57 of the 103 migrant children under the age of 5, complying with a judicial order. The other 46 were deemed “ineligible” for a variety of reasons. Some of their parents had been accused of crimes. One parent had a communicable disease. In a dozen cases, the parents had been deported already without their children, making their reunification more challenging.
“We don’t have the legal authority to bring these individuals back into the country for reunification purposes,” said Matthew Albence, executive director of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, the detention and deportation division.
But there are ways around restrictions on permitting deported parents to return to the United States. The Obama administration, in the rare cases in which such a separation occurred, issued “humanitarian parole” to the mother or father, allowing her or him to enter the United States for the purpose of picking up the child.
.. Of the migrants older than 5, the government officials would not say Thursday how many would be deemed ineligible to be reunited with their families.
Most of the families separated from their children said they were fleeing gang or domestic violence in Central America and planned to seek asylum in the United States.
In reality, MS-13 members make up a fraction of Border Patrol arrests and a small part of gang activity in the United States. While the group has committed brutal murders on Long Island, there is no evidence that the gang is increasingly sending members into the country.
.. Rather than a nationwide threat, the group is being used as a political tool used to “turbocharge the xenophobia that underlies the debate around immigration
.. MS-13 members, some 10,000 in number, make up less than 1 percent of the approximately 1.4 million gang members in the United States, according to F.B.I. estimates. Other gangs are several times larger... MS-13’s numbers are stagnant, too. While precise size estimates are hard to come by, authorities have used the same figure of about 10,000 members for over a decade. (The F.B.I. estimates the gang has between 30,000 and 50,000 members around the world.).. Far from menacing cities across the country, as Mr. Trump has suggested, the gang’s presence is concentrated in Long Island, Los Angeles and the region outside Washington... In addition, most MS-13 recruits are not migrants but teenagers who live in the United States and are alienated from their communities.. In those areas, the gang may be the only group that provides a sense of identity.. Policymakers in Central America have argued deporting criminals from the United States has exacerbated gang problems abroad, ultimately worsening crime in the United States... While MS-13 began in the 1980s as a small and unorganized street gang in Los Angeles, some evidence suggests the group expanded in Central America after the United States began deporting illegal immigrants — many with criminal backgrounds — with greater intensity in 1996. Experts have described this process as “exporting” American-style gang culture to Central America... Poor prison conditions in those countries may have also helped MS-13 become larger and better organized.. By 2008, law enforcement found evidence that MS-13 leaders in El Salvadoran prisons were ordering assassinations in Washington while making plans to unify gang groups in the United States.
“MS-13 was a gang fueled by deportation, not immigration,” Dr. Leap said.
.. Trump uses MS-13 as a political tool
At a rally last month in Nashville, Mr. Trump once again linked MS-13 to his political opponents. He has said on Twitter that Democrats are “weak on crime” along the border and are “protecting MS-13 thugs.”.. Mike Huckabee, tweeted an incendiary picture of MS-13 members, likening them to the campaign staff for Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader... MS-13 has entered the national conversation because of Mr. Trump’s anti-immigration agenda, not because it has become more threatening, Dr. Cruz said. Because of the gang’s association with Central American countries that Mr. Trump dislikes, “it’s the perfect group for him to blame,” he added.
President Trump hopes to deter the flow of migrants into the United States, but near the busy border crossing in Arizona, some said that the threat of separation from their children would not deter them.
“Why would you undertake such a dangerous journey?” said Magdalena Escobedo, 32, who works at the migrant shelter here in Tucson, called Casa Alitas. “When you’ve got a gun to your head, people threatening to rape your daughter, extort your business, force your son to work for the cartels. What would you do?”
.. Critics, including Mr. Trump, have long said that allowing migrants to go free while their immigration cases are pending encourages parents to enter the United States with children, and some conversations bear that out.
“This is the reason I brought a minor with me,” said Guillermo T., 57, a construction worker who recently arrived in Arizona. Facing unemployment at home in Guatemala, he decided to head north; he had been told that bringing his 16-year-old daughter would assure passage. He asked that only his first named be used to avoid consequences with his immigration case.
“She was my passport,” he said of his daughter.
.. they are primarily motivated to leave their countries by violence and lack of economic opportunities, phenomena which she described as closely connected.
.. She said these migrant families choose the United States because they often have networks in the country already and know that there are many job opportunities
.. his son was approached twice by a gang who demanded he join them, flashing a gun and urging him to commit his first extortion. “They kill you if you don’t obey,” said Mr. Cruz.
Three years ago, Honduras had the highest homicide rate in the world. The city of San Pedro Sula had the highest homicide rate in the country. And the Rivera Hernández neighborhood, where 194 people were killed or hacked to death in 2013, had the highest homicide rate in the city. Tens of thousands of young Hondurans traveled to the United States to plead for asylum from the drug gangs’ violence.
This summer I returned to Rivera Hernández to find a remarkable reduction in violence, much of it thanks to programs funded by the United States that have helped community leaders tackle crime. By treating violence as if it were a communicable disease and changing the environment in which it propagates, the United States has not only helped to make these places safer, but has also reduced the strain on our own country.
.. Honduras has dropped from first place to third among Central American countries sending unaccompanied children to the United States illegally.
.. most Americans think the United States should “deal with its own problems” while others deal with theirs “as best they can,” a sentiment that’s at the core of Donald J. Trump’s “America First” slogan and “build a wall” campaign. Many seem to have lost their faith in American power.
.. The funding for violence prevention in Honduras — which this year cost between $95 million and $110 million — has also come under attack from the left.
.. This summer, a bill was introduced in Congress to suspend security aid to Honduras because of corruption and human rights violations. These concerns are legitimate, but cutting our support would be a mistake.
.. What is working in Honduras may offer hope to Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries in crisis.
.. The gangs enforced a 6 p.m. curfew. Bodies littered the dirt streets in the morning. The 18th Street Gang set up a checkpoint
.. gangsters playing soccer with the decapitated head of someone they had executed.
.. In two years, homicides have plummeted 62 percent.
.. America’s support is “getting results,” said James D. Nealon, the United States ambassador to Honduras. We are, he said, reducing migration. But we are also repairing harms the United States inflicted — first by deporting tens of thousands of gangsters to Honduras over the past two decades, a decision that fueled much of the recent mayhem, and second by our continuing demand for drugs, which are shipped from Colombia and Venezuela through Honduras. If the United States sustains its anti-violence work in Honduras, Ambassador Nealon says, “in five years they will get their country back.”
.. the Ponce gang grabbed 13-year-old Andrea Abigail Argeñal Martínez because her family couldn’t afford the “war tax” the gang imposed on its tiny store. They raped Andrea for several days in that house, and called her mother so she could hear the girl’s screams as they cut her to death.
.. When he hears about a gangster cornered by the police, he will stand in the line of fire yelling, “Stop shooting!” until the officers allow the gangster to surrender. In this way he has gained the trust of all six gangs. He does the same when he hears that someone is about to be murdered by one of the gangs
.. The United States modeled its prevention strategy on what had worked in Boston in the 1990s, and later in Los Angeles: Concentrate efforts on the most violent hot spots.
.. One of the most effective tactics is the creation of neighborhood outreach centers
.. “The U.S. government has been a bigger partner in change than the Honduran government.”.. One stocky player wearing a No. 11 jersey told me he had killed 121 people, charging $220 or more per hit... “If they play each other, they see each other less as the enemy... focuses on children who are identified by trained counselors as having a number of risk factors for joining gangs, like substance abuse, unsupervised time and a “negative life event” — having been the victim of a violent crime, having a family member killed... In recent years, 96 percent of homicides did not end in a conviction. Everyone in Rivera Hernández knew what happened to witnesses who stepped forward: Their bodies were dumped with a dead frog next to them. The message: Frogs talk too much... The A.J.S. assigns teams of psychologists, investigators and lawyers to look into all homicides and to coax witnesses to give testimony. More than half of completed homicide cases in seven pilot neighborhoods now result in guilty verdicts... “It’s not like before — kill someone and there are no consequences,”.. Half the family members usually know the killer; one in four witnessed the murder. They say it takes four to 15 visits to persuade a witness to testify.
.. Witnesses can testify anonymously, as they do in Italian Mafia cases.
.. She had witnessed three murders, but this was the first time she had told anyone. Afterward, in the car, she beamed. “I feel liberated!”
.. One afternoon several months ago, a Mara Salvatrucha gangster was caught by the police in Rivera Hernández with a hacked up body in the front basket of his bicycle, casually on his way to dispose of it.
.. 174,000 Hondurans, 4 percent of the country’s households, had abandoned their homes because of violence.
.. Gangsters stripped their houses of anything they could sell — window frames, doors, roofs — leaving whole blocks in rubble.
.. It will take much more than this project to change the reputation of the United States in this part of the world, where we are famous for exploiting workers and resources and helping to keep despots in power.
.. A 2016 study commissioned by U.S.A.I.D. found that working with people within the gangs — those who are active participants and those who want to leave — produced the biggest drops in violence. And yet the United States does hardly any of this, for fear of being seen as working with or paying off gang members.
.. The next priority must be to clean up the police.
.. I asked if any would go to the police station to report a crime. Not one hand went up. “No one with their five senses would report a crime,”
.. up to one in five of his cops was dirty, but community leaders say the number is closer to half.
.. two families who reported a crime to the police. Officers ratted them out, and three family members were killed that very day.
.. Mara Salvatrucha gangsters in Rivera Hernández say they receive warnings from the police of impending sweeps and are handed captured rivals to execute
.. Police officers also engage in extrajudicial killings.
.. Community leaders say the United States must find a better way to punish bad cops without withholding programs that help children.
.. half of the funds Congress budgets for Honduras go to the State Department bureaucracy or American companies paid to administer programs, so-called beltway bandits, rather than directly to local nonprofits or Hondurans.
.. The United States will also need to pressure Honduras to ante up more of its own money for violence prevention;
.. Fourteen-year-old Carlos Manuel Escobar Gómez told me things were so bad two years ago that he was ready to hop freight trains through Mexico to the United States. Both his parents and a brother were dead, and he was sure he wouldn’t survive his 11th year
.. he said with awe, “I haven’t seen a dead body in a year.”