Last week TimesLedger Newspapers reported that U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand had become alarmed by the drug problem and growing influence of gangs throughout the state — in particular in Queens. She said there are as many as 22,000 gang members in the state and as many as 670,000 New Yorkers suffer from substance abuse related to gang activity.
According to Gillibrand, Queens has 163,000 drug cases and as many as 3,500 gang members. That number is a best guess. The NYPD has a unit that tracks the city’s gangs. It records information about known gang members arrested for crimes. It has a list of all the known gangs and their identifiers, but the NYPD admitted it does not know how many gang members are in the city or even how many gangs.
While we question the validity of the senator’s numbers, we agree gangs exert too much influence in Queens. This is true in public housing, where gangs are growing violent. There are too many illegal guns in the hands of immature people. This continues despite tough new laws that require mandatory prison terms for the illegal possession of a firearm.
There have been too many times in the past year when innocent victims have been caught in the crossfire of warring gang members. These gangs rely on illegal drug sales to finance their activities. In recent years, the gangs have recruited people 13 or younger to serve as drug runners.
Gillibrand has sponsored several bills she hopes will address the gang problem nationwide. The first will allocate money for mentoring programs. Another would crack down on gun trafficking. A third would create gang zones that would create federal funding for areas with high rates of gang violence.
We applaud the senator’s intentions but are not convinced the federal government will have much impact. Gangs are a community problem and need to be identified and a major effort must be made to convince children that gang membership is a dead-end street. At the same time, pop culture leaders must be careful not to glorify urban gangs.
We hope before Gillibrand writes another bill that she will sit down with community leaders and gang experts to get a better handle on the problem.