Some balance in talking about MS-13

Over the past few years, I have pointed readers of the blog to various television shows about the gang Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13. I have highlighted such programs as 18 With a Bullet, The World's Most Dangerous Gang, Hijos de la Guerra, and Ross Kemp on Gangs.

This week, NPR's program On The Media broadcast a segment critiquing such coverage of the gang and the portrayal of Mara Salvatrucha as "the World's Most Dangerous Gang." The basic argument of researcher Kevin Pranis is that the coverage is overblown because the gang is neither as dangerous nor as organized as the mass media would have people believe. He also asserts that the coverage is actually counter-productive because it has had the impact of glamorizing the Mara Salvatrucha brand and actually making it more attractive to certain youths.

I had some reactions as I listened to that segment on the radio. First, since I don't think many mareros read my blog, I am not too concerned that my blog posts highlighting these television shows have worsened the problem, but I will try to do a better job of noting where media sensationalism may obscure the actual facts. Second, the comments about the relative fearsomeness of MS-13, may apply better to the situation of the gang in the US than in El Salvador. Yet it is also true that in El Salvador the media plays up the gang threat to justify "Super Firm Hand" polices of the current government. Third, the coverage of MS-13 is feeding the anti-immigrant sentiments of various segments of US society. The danger of "transnational gangs" is advanced as one of the reasons the US must build a southern wall and spend billions more on border enforcement.


inner-self said…
hey how's the progress with the northern longitudinal highway? when will construction begin and what's the route, i mean through which towns will it intersect. oh and what about presidential candidates for 09, who is running for arena?
El-Visitador said…
I wonder how is it that 'the brand' works

If you want to set up a new branch of the MS, say, in Cacaopera, or in Peoria, and call it MS, do you pay a monthly fee or royalty to the Grand Central MS? And who exactly is the Grand Central and where is it?

Or is it a more organic model,and you pay dues to the closest pre-existing MS branch?
Don said…
You are right about the mareros becoming cannon fodder for the anti-immigrant movement. But from what I have heard, a bit of US immigration policy has been backfiring. I understand that MS-13 in El Salvador has been recruiting new members from Salvadoreños who have been deported from the USA after living here as undocumented immigrants.
SalvaAlchemist said…
I don't think there is such a big critique on you Tim as there is about all this attention get put upon this group. People know nothing about gangs it seems like. Like I mentioned in my earlier post with the Ross Kemp video, this gang is way to hyped here in the states.

They are not the worlds most dangerous gang. They only control a few blocks of Los Angeles and thats about it here in the U.S. The Latin Kings have like twice the number of members than MS. The LK's are the largest gang in the East Coast and in Spain.

And as far as I know MS has had its members start the gang. Whether b/c they had to flee to other states or to "recruit", not just some random kids who are copy cats.
Anonymous said…
I also think the threat posed by the gang itself is somewhat overblown. I have a blog that deals exclusively with MS-13.
If you have an interest, check it out.