Two weeks after a federal sweep of MS-13 members in East Boston, residents told police last night they remain on edge about the violent gang’s reach into neighborhood schools, despite official denials.
Renee Scalfani, 45, an East Boston resident, said she’s very concerned about gang recruitment at schools and the violent consequences of saying no.
“Those kids were being pressured into joining. That’s why they were killed,” she said at a community meeting about violence last night at East Boston High School. “We have to do something about it.”
Starting in September, three teenagers were killed in East Boston by MS-13 in four months.
The federal indictment states the gang has been recruiting members inside East Boston High School.
U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said last night she could not talk about the “extent” of the recruitment. Police Commissioner William B. Evans repeated his position that recruiting happens outside of the building and on the playgrounds and streets.
“After speaking to the principal and the school police who are in here, they didn’t think it was that big of an issue,” Evans said. “I heard it was more on the playgrounds and in the streets where we have to do a lot more work because that’s where they’re recruiting kids.”
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said his office estimates there are 50 to 100 kids in the East Boston community who are on the fence about joining MS-13.
“It’s our job to give them other options,” he said. “I handle 35,000 prosecutions a year. Do you know what percent of them goes to jail? Five percent. It’s break after break after break until someone like the U.S. Attorney steps in,” he said. “Some of them deserve breaks, it’s our job to determine who the impact players are.
“What more can we do?” he asked. “Be hypervigilant. Anyplace you see that happen. On the soccer field, on the playground. Maybe you don’t want to get involved, that’s when you pick up the phone and you call the police and let the gang unit handle it. It needs to be dealt with. Not necessarily the kid being pressured but the kid doing the pressuring needs to be dealt with very strongly.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh said the city has several programs, such as Operation Exit, that gives former gang members a path to work in the trades and hospitality industry.
“The issue of crime can’t be solved by simply arresting our way out of the situation,” Walsh said.
Evans said while crime overall is down, he understands how devastating the murders of the three boys was to East Boston.
“We’ll work harder, believe me,” Evans said. “I know the anxiety level is up because of what’s been going on … If we see upticks we will put extra officers on over here. Things are good here, believe it or not, despite the uptick in violence.”
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