Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The reality of gang violence

In this blog, I have often relayed the headlines about gang violence in El Salvador, including attacks on bus drivers and conductors who don't pay the tribute demanded by the gangs. There are human stories behind these headlines. The following story was submitted by a blog reader who was in El Salvador last week:

We first heard about trouble late in the night, when our friend hurried into the house to tell us that his son and son-in-law had not come home. The family had looked for them, and found out that they had been picked up by the police who were investigating a gang-related murder that had taken place on a bus earlier that day, on the road just outside of the community. The family was upset and scared, and before we went to bed, we held hands and prayed that the boys would have a peaceful night.

The next morning, the father had to travel to another city to collect a document which proved that his son was a minor, aged 16. The other boy is 18. The pastor assembled a little rescue team to go and find out what the boys' situation was. As I stepped out of the house, a mom in the community ran up to me and told me that her daughter was having a nervous breakdown in the night. Her daughter, who is 17, was on a bus when the bus driver was shot by a man with a gun. The daughter couldn't sleep all night, and didn't want to take medicine that would badly affect the 5-month old baby she was nursing.

The rescue team was able to get the 2 boys relocated to the police station nearest to the community. The volunteer lawyer said that there was no evidence against the boys, and that they would be released in a day or two. The family was able to take some clothes to the boys.

I found the 17 year-old girl on her way home from school a few hours later. Her mom had wanted her to stay home, but she wanted to continue her studies, and said it helped her not to think about what had happened. She told this story: "I was riding the micro to school. A man with a gun came onto the bus. He looked around and I tried not to look at him. I held my backpack in front of my face so I couldn't see and prayed to God, and prayed to God. I was really scared. The man with the gun shot the man, and they couldn't fix his stomach so he died." She told me that she is scared to be outside of the house, but God will protect her.

A few days later, we found the two boys safely at home. They looked tired, and relieved. They probably won't ever talk much about their experiences. The men in the community don't like to talk about these things.

My 16-year old son got on the bus this morning in a US suburb and went to school. He will arrive at school without having to hide behind his backpack, without having to pray for his life, without having blood splattered all around him, without having to worry that the police will arrest him for something he knows nothing about.


Anonymous said...

Heartwrenching stories, no doubt.

Would your correspondent care to comment on the attire/appearance of the two apprehended boys. Cops in E.S. can be very unsophisticated and often profile people based on appearance. This in no way constitutes an excuse for the police or any type of blame-shifting (don't blame the victim!), but I am rather curious as to whether the families of the boys could have taken risk-mitigation strategies.

Information such as this could be very valuable for others.

I must say, my mom would not let me out of the house without a tucked shirt (no t-shirts allowed, unless going directly to a sporting activity), belt, pants (shorts were for the beach), and combed hair. Any holes in our attire meant the piece could not be used until properly sewn back. And we kids were often expected to do the sewing, though, fortunately, not always.

I know it was way uncool, and borderline unacceptable from a U.S. kid's perspective, but heck, I never got picked up by police either! Thanks, mom!

Anonymous said...

It is my opinion that whoever submitted that story must be very fortunate, if he hasn't seen his children be delivered into the hands of bane, but I wouldn't be shouting triumph just yet. I believe that all nations have their "social" evils, for example in US, you get things like Columbine, schools where masses fragment to groups and there is a lot of prejudice and bullying involved, also, I was reading recently of a female in the US, who beat a "friend" to death, butchered and burned the body and dispered the remnants over two counties (the Adrianne Reynolds case), and by the looks of East Moline, I'd say it's pretty suburban, but look what attrocity was commited there? So your correspondant may say that his children don't have to fear being stopped in the bus by the police, but there are many other variables that could happen: I saw in the news a video of some cops that were searching a school for drugs, alumni sitting on the floor, dogs going over the place, a cop practically shoving a kid to the floor and practically putting his gun in his face, I saw long ago on another news, a kid who was tasered, for a long period of time, by a guard (I don't remember why), students having to pass by metal detectors as if they were criminals. Frankly, after experiencing school in El Salvador, and knowing how "school" and people are at that level, I'm grateful that I studied here, specially after having a glimpse at how "unsafe" and paranoia-filled some US schools have become.

I too can say that I've never entered the bus, and fear returning blood spattered, accused by the police of crimes I haven't commited, of not hiding my face behind my backpack... it all depends, in this case, what kid of bus was it? A public bus, where the gangs trying to coerce the "man" for a payment, also, I'm sure that in the "barrios" ghettos, etc, in US, where people are of low income, and crime is greater, that people are afraid of sending their children off... So bottomline, your correspondant should be grateful, but US has it's own evils...

Anonymous said...

By the by, I believe it is always good to check the "history" of the gangs. Gangs in this country surely run rampant, but one must remember that gangs are an "import", as Salvatrucha for example can be tracked down to USA, to Salvadorean immigrants who had to gang-up to protect themselves, engaged on criminal behavior and where eventually deported to "their" nations, where they stablished bases and spread their territory from Central America to the US. But the US remains home of several gangs of different nationalities, the Blood, the Crips, Bloods, Natoma Boys, Asian Boyz, Sarzana (the list is endlesss), with the majority of them engaging on X or Y criminal/illicit activity in their communities.

Anonymous said...

I will be moving to El Salvador from the United States in March and reading this makes me a little leary. My husband is from ES and we have to move there to finish getting his resident status in the US. We will probably be there for a year. Does anyone have any advice for someone like me?