Gang violence raises questions about how to safeguard local schools

Security vehicles parked outside of Brentwood High School.

By Rebecca Liebson and Kayla McKiski

On the exact anniversary of the assassination of two Brentwood High School students by the MS-13 gang, the additional security measures put in place at the school have disappeared, school officials say.

With two students from a neighboring district murdered in the past five months, spokesperson for Brentwood School District, Felix Adeyeye, insists the deaths last September were an isolated incident.

“It didn’t have anything to do with our normal course of business,” he said.

Despite this, some students still contest the safety of their suburban school district.

“I’m not gonna say the school is safe because there’s a lot of gang related stuff,” Marielli Rubio, 17, of Brentwood High School said. “It does scare the [students].”

In Nov., 2016, two months after the violent murders of Nisa Mickens and fellow student Kayla Cueves, school officials announced they would install 253 cameras and hire 11 extra security personnel. Since then, MS-13 gang members have committed over a dozen murders in Brentwood and neighboring communities, but district officials say the school has returned to its normal levels of security.

“The Brentwood School District is the safest entity in the Brentwood community,” Adeyeye said. “We pride ourselves on keeping our students safe. We’ve been doing everything we can to ensure that on school grounds during school hours, our students feel secure and nurtured.”

In a press release, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, John E. Smith labeled MS-13 “among the most dangerous and rapidly expanding criminal gangs worldwide,” calling the group “a direct threat to communities.”

Under pressure from this continuing danger, other school districts in the area have taken measures to protect their students. In April, South Country School District was prompted to take action when the bodies of two Bellport High School students were found behind a soccer field in Central Islip, brutally beaten to death by MS-13.

The district hired a security supervisor to coordinate efforts across schools, as well as one additional security guard at Bellport Middle School. They also added one full-time school resource officer (SRO).

“We responded to what happened anticipating that there may be more problems,” Nelson Briggs, the assistant superintendent of South Country School District, said. “So therefore, we did increase slightly and regroup and reorganize. We didn’t necessarily scale back afterwards because it’s always good to have better training and better supervision.”

Employed by Suffolk County Police Department, SROs are meant to help establish relationships within the community, but Briggs says they also perform similar functions to security guards.

“Just having their presence there acts a little bit as a deterrent,” he said.

Brentwood High School also has SROs. However, Adeyeye insists they’re not posted in the school as a security measure.

Some fear SROs may do more harm than good.

I think what that will create is more separation between students and the school,” Osman Canales, community organizer for Long Island Student Immigrant Advocates, said. “Because now you’re putting more police in the school, it implies that the students are criminals.”

Activists believe the best solution is to stop gang violence at the source by creating programs that will give students an incentive to steer clear of crime.

“We need to be welcoming to teens,” Marcos Maldonado, former Brentwood faculty, said. “Yeah you can have more security, you can have metal detectors, you can have uniforms. But they’re in school six hours and there’s an additional 18 they’re not. During that time they need something to do.”

“If there’s no opportunities, if there’s no help, then the only alternative that our youth has is committing crimes and joining gangs,” Canales said.

But to some students, neither security nor programs will make much of a difference for the safety of the school in the near future.

“Honestly no matter what they do, either way it’s not really gonna change anything,” Rubio said. “Stuff is still going to happen. That’s just Brentwood.”

 

About Rebecca Liebson 1 Article
I'm a junior studying journalism and political science at Stony Brook University. I serve as assistant news editor for The Statesman and I'm a member of the School of Journalism Student Advisory Board.