3680693BRENTWOOD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — An effort is underway on Long Island to get the next generation to resist the gang life that has been terrorizing so many of their communities.
On Friday, hundreds of elementary school students graduated from an anti-gang program with a pledge never to join a gang.
As CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported, hardened anti-gang police officers were nothing but smiles at the Southwest Elementary School in Bay Shore, as they handed out diplomas and pins to the 185 earnest fourth graders who just completed the new anti-gang program.
“I’d actually never realized I’d made it through the program. I was excited to make these promises,” Mila Miafosa said.
For months, officers with the sheriff’s anti-gang resistance program called ‘GREAT’ have been teaching these 9 and 10-year-olds how to stay out of gang life and suggesting strategies to avoid run-ins with gang members.
“If they’re in a situation and they’re able to get out of it without any violence or anything, that’s a home run,” Sheriff Vincent DeMarco said.
Over the past year, Bay Shore and the neighboring Brentwood community’s sense of security has been shattered by a dozen MS-13 gang killings, including two young girls whose bodies were left crumpled in the street. The hope is to teach the next generation at the earliest age to turn to authorities for help rather than the gangs.
Young Joshua Benitez said he understands that when it comes to gangs, everyone has to choose what side they’re on.
“I would stay away from them and do the right decision,” he said.
Mila believes kindness and compassion can also work in fending off gang culture.
“I want to show everybody that everybody needs help sometimes, and that everybody should have and show respect,” she said.
Respect that begins with youngsters determined to help change the sometimes dangerous world they live in.
The Sheriff’s office has anti-gang programs in ten Suffolk County schools with plans to expand to more schools.