Boston’s public schools have a gang recruitment problem — and the city doesn’t want to admit it.
Police Commissioner William B. Evans told me yesterday that East Boston High School isn’t a “breeding ground” for members of MS-13 — one of the country’s most violent gangs.
Evans said he met yesterday with East Boston High School principal Phil Brangiforte — a graduate of the school himself — who told him that his school was “probably the safest place that kids can be.”
This runs completely counter to Friday’s federal indictment that charges dozens of MS-13 gang members with horrible crimes such as murder and drug trafficking — and says the gang recruited prospective members at high schools, including East Boston.
The indictment reads: “MS-13 members actively recruit members — often juveniles inside high schools — from communities such as Chelsea and East Boston, MA, which have a large number of immigrants from El Salvador. …
During this investigation, ‘paros’ (prospective members) were often recruited in the local high schools, including Chelsea High School, Everett High School and East Boston High School, often when they were 14 or 15 years old.”
In November, while I was reporting on gang recruitment in the city’s schools, I met with a student who told me how gang members were trying to recruit him inside his school and at the bus stop. He told me anything that can happen on the streets can happen at school.
“It’s the same thing to them,” the teen said.
But Evans — whose officers are on the federal task force involved with the three-year investigation into MS-13 — said East Boston High didn’t have a “major issue” inside.
“When they’re out in the playgrounds, when they’re out after school, that’s been what has been identified,” Evans said.
Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang declined to comment and Brangiforte was not made available.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh said one of his first calls on Friday was to the East Boston High principal. Walsh said Brangiforte has a “good handle” on the school and knows “every single kid.”
Walsh said schools “should not be a place where kids should be worried about being approached to join gangs.”
“Am I going to say it doesn’t happen?” Walsh said. “I can’t say that, but I can say we’re going to do anything we can to make sure that our kids go into the schools and get an opportunity to learn.”
But the first step to dealing with a problem, is admitting you have one.
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