MS-13 and Counting: Gang Activity in Northern Virginia
Thank you Mr. Chairman for calling this field hearing today. I am glad we have brought together these officials from various Virginia jurisdictions and federal agencies to discuss the very serious rise of gang activity in the area. I represent Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District, which has seen an increase in organized gang activity as well.
The Baltimore and Washington regions have a lot in common – our only difference now is that we have our own sports teams!
In my district and throughout the state we are experiencing some of the same problems that you are here in Virginia.
MS-13 is a sophisticated crime network that is not contained by state or international borders.
Right now, some attribute the rise in gang activity in Maryland to the success of the Regional Gang Task Force here in Virginia. Instead of reducing gang activity, we are just spreading it around. If this is in fact the case, then we all need to work together across state lines to combat this serious problem. We can’t just brush it under the rug into another jurisdiction – we need to work as a regional team across state lines to solve the problem.
The rise of MS-13 exposes several challenges we face as a region and as a nation: The fluidity of our borders, insufficient immigration enforcement tools, a lack of social programs that promote youth development, the persistence of poverty, and a limited regional approach to law enforcement create the perfect storm for violent gangs to thrive.
MS-13 is a classic example.
We need to strengthen our regional approach to law enforcement by building on effective programs already underway and making sure we get law enforcement the resources they need to do their job.
The FBI’s MS-13 Gang Task Force, and the soon-to-be National Gang Intelligence Center; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s program Operation Community Shield; and Virginia’s Regional Gang Task Force all have the potential to stop MS-13 from infiltrating our communities.
That is, if we work together.
Many years ago I was an investigative prosecutor in Baltimore County, Maryland and I dealt with gang issues back then. This issue is getting more serious and more deadly. We must fight the proliferation of gangs on multiple fronts.
Based on my investigation, a lot of gang members have a very poor home-life and it is these young people who are most susceptible to being recruited into gangs. For them, the gangs are the family and support group that they lack at home.
We need regional law enforcement efforts AND we need effective prevention and intervention programs.
To address this problem we need to ensure that prevention and intervention programs have the resources they need to reach the kids early. After-school programs, programs such as the Police Athletic League (P.A.L.), and others, seek to involve parents, schools, and local community groups to rid our neighborhoods of the underlying conditions that lead to gang activity.
By teaching youths to respect themselves and their community through smart decisions and getting involved in a positive way, we can help put them on the path to a successful – and legal – future.
We need to reach these young people starting in elementary school and continue through junior high and high school.
Recent trends in my Congressional District indicate that recruitment is occurring at the junior high and high school level. If prevention is going to work we need to get to these kids first.
My District is also a diverse district when it comes to gang membership and gang activity.
I represent parts of Baltimore City and Harford County where there are large Blood populations and where MS-13 is growing.
Because the suburban areas of Baltimore do not have as active a gang population as suburban Washington, I believe that we still have an opportunity in the Baltimore region for prevention strategies to work and for limiting the increase in gangs and gang related violence.
We need to stay focused and our jurisdictions across the Washington and Baltimore region must work together. Cooperation is key if we are going to save our young people, stop the violence, and end the crime associated with gangs.
I want to thank you again Mr. Chairman for having this hearing and the witnesses for coming today. I look forward to working with you to strengthen our communities.
Thank you and I yield back.