As a media-stoked panic about immigrant youth gangs flared across the U.S. in the 1990s, national violent crime rates were actually plummeting, suggesting that "reports" of internationally networked Central American gangs invading idyllic American suburbs masked more than it revealed. Moreover, the image anticipated the post-9/11 panic over foreign terror cells that dovetailed with a renewed backlash against undocumented Latino immigrants. In this engrossing case study of suburban gangs in Long Island's Nassau County, investigative journalist Garland demystifies the sensationalist rhetoric and simplistic media coverage stemming from the economic and demographic transformation of suburbia. Garland humanizes her subject through long-term, in-depth interviews with current and former gang members; extensive footwork across the U.S. and Central America; and a formidable command of relevant foreign and public policy decisions. While offering a detailed look inside such notorious gangs as Mara Salvatrucha and its self-styled affiliates, Garland makes a persuasive case that her subjects' attraction to gang life had less to do with what gangs offered than with "what America did not." (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Startling revelations of how bigotry and gang violence are transforming once-bucolic suburbs. While working on her graduate studies at NYU in 2004, New York Times contributor Garland became acquainted with the surprisingly fertile gang scene in Hempstead, Long Island. She wondered how this community-one of the first planned suburbs on the island, long since grown rough-edged-was infiltrated by Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street, Latino gangs renowned for their violence. After meeting with several Salvadorean teens at the high school, the author found that their bravado masked deep trauma and alienation. The roots of the suburban gang explosion, she writes, began during El Salvador's brutal civil war. Both government and rebel forces recruited adolescent soldiers, many of whom emigrated to scattered American communities with their wartime stressors unaddressed. Garland's interviews reveal a depressingly familiar pattern. These recent immigrants-most hampered by linguistic and other difficulties-join small-time gang cliques for a sense of belonging and protection. The cliques then develop intense rivalries, which spawn murderous mayhem for which suburban police are unprepared. The author also tracks a narrative of homegrown viciousness. White working-class residents of towns like Freeport and Farmingville react despicably to the new arrivals, attempting to outlaw day-labor activities while gangs of white teens make sport out of attacking "Mexicans." Garland offers empathetic portraits of the troubled adolescents and beleaguered cops trying to stanch the spiraling violence, and she helpfully examines how the lack of regional planning on Long Island created de facto segregation, as "a bunkermentality had set in when it came to protecting communities from outsiders." The author offers few uplifting conclusions, suggesting that these communities' unwillingness to embrace new arrivals will only empower the gangs. A valuable exploration of an important cultural phenomenon, but Garland's sympathy for her subjects occasionally clouds her examination of the gangs' seemingly pointless sadism.