What should we do with gang members like MS-13, the crips, the bloods, the Latin Kings, young people who become violent offenders? Are there 'throw away' criminals?
MS-13 gang member Hector Portillo was stabbed in a fight with a rival gang, the Bloods. MS-13, la Mara Salvatrucha, like the bloods, is notorious for its violence. Popular belief is La Mara Salvatrucha stands for La Mara, a street in San Salvador and Salvatrucha, the gorilla army that fought in El Salvador's civil war.
After the gang member was stabbed, Portillo and another gang member found the person they believed had stabbed Portillo on a Flushing, Queens street. The boy's name was Pashad Gray. Hector produced a gun and shot Gray, who fell to the ground. Portillo then put several more rounds into Gray who lay helpless on the cement. Gray died shortly thereafter. Who knows how Portillo felt when he later learned Gray was not the person who had stabbed him. Gray was only 15 years old.
Portillo was captured and convicted. Pashad's sister was in Brooklyn Federal Court to witness the sentencing of the MS-13 gang member a few days ago.
"Can me and my family get an apology?" Rynadia Whittingtondo asked Federal Judge Sterling Johnson.
"Is it possible he can say he's sorry?"
The judge said he could not force Portillo to apologize. Instead, he indicated Hector Portillo had a long time to think about an apology, a remark about the possibility of remorse.
"That is something I think would be good for his soul." The judge noted.
"He's a lost cause," Pashad's sister said. "I don't think his apology would have mattered anyway because I didn't see any remorse in him."
There are two parts to criminal justice. On the one hand, society puts people who hurt other people behind bars to punish them. The offender has caused harm to society and he must pay for his actions. That serves as a lesson for those who otherwise would assault innocent persons and it imposes a strict penalty on the person who has offended.
Presumably, the second role society is to offer the opportunity for rehabilitation. The theory presumes every person makes bad decisions. Some bad decisions are horrible. Those who make these tragic decisions must pay a healthy price. However, once they have 'paid their debt to society' then we owe them the chance to better themselves from the experience.
U.S. society has always been short on the rehabilitation side of things. During the past decade we have stopped thinking in terms of recuperation altogether and started thinking about throw-away people. That has resulted in a dramatic increase in prison the population and a lot more ruined lives. As little as we have done for the recuperative nature in human beings, during the past decade, we have forgotten about rehabilitation completely. The only thing we seem interested in is collecting our pound of flesh.
Such narrow thinking forces a 15 to 20 year old to pay a higher price for the same crime than a person who is 50 years old. It also creates 'throw away' people. Let's say a 20 year old and a 50 year old commit a similar crime and both get life. If both people live until they are 75, the 20 year old will be incarcerated 30 more years than the 50 year old will be. It also says there is no hope for the 20 year old. Maybe U.S. society is right. Maybe not.
“Violent street gangs such as MS-13 prey on our community and relish the beating, stabbing, and shooting of perceived rivals, with disregard for bystanders caught in their cross-hairs,” stated United States Attorney Campbell. “Today’s sentence reflects the severity of such crimes and affirms our unwavering commitment to dismantle street gangs and bring their members to justice.” The feds are cracking down on ms-13.
Portillo is a rotten apple. He committed many violent crimes in Flushing, New York including planning a murder and participating in a drive by shooting.
The question is, what do we do with Hector Portillo? Do we throw him away?
Judge Benton Johnson gave Portillo 38 years. If he is not killed in a retaliatory attack in prison he will be 58 when he gets out. Is he savable? If he is savable should we save him?
Portillo joined MS-13 at age 11 in El Salvador. The gang has flourished in the aftermath of one of the most vicious civil wars in the history of Central America. During that civil war the ruling government, the PCN, the National Conciliation Party, enforced power through military death squads. Initially, mostly fathers were taken during middle of the night raids. In later years they attacked entire villages. Los desaparacidos, the "disappeared" is a term that refers to more than 75,000 people who disappeared, never to be seen again. The United States backed the PCN, despite knowing of the human rights violations.
Gang members like Hector Portillo were not created in a vacuum, were they? Portillo joined the La Mara Salvatrucha as part of a chain of violence he learned from generations of repressed people. Whether it is the death squads by a U.S. backed government in El Salvador or the slavery and oppression of blacks on U.S. soil, gangs and their violent ways are often based in a culture left to the poor through U.S. history. These youths have grown up in a climate of violence which the average middle class citizen does not know about or understand. Sad to say, as the chain continues, many Americans don't even care.
Again, I ask, what should we do with Hector Portillo? What price should he and others pay considering the legacy left him through the generations? Under these conditions isn't it hard to say 15 and 20 year olds don't deserve a chance to be rehabilitated?
I don’t think 38 years is a severe sentence for first degree murder of an innocent victim. At the same time, throwing young men away for making horrible decisions in places where such decisions are a way of life suggests a society that does not allow for young people to err. Since to err is to be human, it suggests we have no idea what rehabilitation is or how to bring it about. Nor do we take responsibility for the lessons our own history has taught inner city youth or an interest in breaking the chain of violence.