The growing problem of gang violence has led to cries for the harshest penalties for those involved in this behavior. The hope is if society punishes a select few harshly enough, the message will get out and discourage others from joining gangs and taking part in senseless violence.
For that reason, Jose Hiraeta, 19, of Woodhaven now face 25 years in prison for the brutal beating of another young man outside a Flushing Laundromat. Hiraeta was convicted Feb. 17 of gang assault, assault, robbery and criminal possession of a weapon following a jury trial.
His partner, Jose Molina, 20, of Fresh Meadows has already pleaded guilty and faces 11 years in prison. The two are members of MS-13, a gang that traces its roots to the streets of El Salvador. The two were reportedly part of a group of 11 gang members who confronted the victim. They asked him if he belonged to a gang. He said no and added that he did not believe in gangs. That must have struck a nerve.
The gang beat the man with a bicycle chain and a milk crate. They stole two chains and took the victim’s shoes.
If we believed putting Molina in prison for 20 years would make Queens a safer place, we might be inclined to ask the judge to throw the book at him. But prison is just another part of the lie that comes with gang membership. There is no evidence tough sentencing has been a deterrent to gang membership and gang violence. The Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings and MS-13 have romanticized prison. They do not seem to comprehend what a waste it is for a 19-year-old to spend 20 years in prison.
The district attorney and courts have to be tough when it comes to gang violence. But there must be a better solution than the waste of storing a young man in prison for 20 or 11 years. More needs to challenge the myths that surround gang membership.
MS-13 grew out of a culture where there was little to live for in an impoverished country. That is not the case here. In a recession there are still opportunities in this city and people willing to help young men and women take part in the American Dream.
The war on gangs will not be won in Sing Sing. It will be won on the streets and in the city’s schools.