BOSTON (AP) - The streets are quieter these days in East Boston, but the marchers still gather in front of the police precinct house, as they have nearly every Thursday evening for the past four summers, after a rash of brutal killings and attempted murders by the violent street gang MS-13 struck fear into residents of this majority Latin American neighborhood.
A dozen or so residents, police officers and church pastors set out across the neighborhood, handing out purple wristbands calling for peace and holding handwritten signs bearing messages in Spanish like “Los Jovenes Son El Futuro” (Youth are the Future) and “Juntos Por La Paz” (Together for Peace).
The weekly marches, which wrapped up for the season recently, serve as a reminder of darker times, as well as a continued call for trust between residents and police in East Boston and the communities around it, says Sandra Aleman-Nijjar, a native of El Salvador who organizes the marches.
Police and community leaders in East Boston and other nearby cities where MS-13 has long been active credit a case winding down in Boston federal court for the current break in gang violence.
Some 60 members of MS-13 were rounded up by the FBI and state and local police in January 2016 in what authorities have touted as nation’s largest single takedown of the notorious Salvadoran gang. Most of those still awaiting sentencing are scheduled to have their day in court this month.
At the time of the raid, officials said they took down about a third of the MS-13 presence in Massachusetts, as well as leaders of the gang’s East Coast Program, which also oversaw factions in Houston; Columbus, Ohio; New Jersey; Virginia; Maryland; and North Carolina.
President Donald Trump has consistently singled out MS-13 as a threat to national security, even though its U.S. presence remains relatively small compared with street gangs like the Bloods and Crips.
To date, 49 gang members have been convicted, with many facing 15 years to life in prison for racketeering crimes like attempted murder, drug distribution, robbery and extortion, according to U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office.
Sixteen defendants were charged in six killings from 2014 to 2016. Three other MS-13-related deaths from that period are also being tried in local courts.