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Gillibrand concerned about increase in gangs, drug use rising in Queens

Gang activity and drug use in Queens have been rising over the last couple of years, according to U.S. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and the elected official has some plans in Washington to curb the problem from different angles.

In a conference call Tuesday afternoon, the senator said she was appalled at the statistics her office discovered on the number of gangs operating in the state and wanted the federal government to step in. The problem is expected to get worse since children and teens will be looking for an outlet during the summer months and a rough economy will not give them safer options, according to the senator.

“We can never let the lure of gangs harm the opportunities for our children,” she said.

There are as many as 22,000 gang members and 670,000 New Yorkers are suffering from substance abuse that is directly related to gang activity, according to Gillibrand.

Queens has the second-highest number of substance abuse cases with more than 163,000 and is tied with the Bronx for the second-highest number of gang members — between 2,500 and 3,500 members, the senator said. Brooklyn had the highest number of people with substance abuse problems, more than 200,000, and gang members — between 3,500 and 10,000, according to Gillibrand’s data.

Gillibrand said the gangs have been targeting children as young as 13 to be the eyes and ears of the groups for their illegal operations.

“Young kids are being pulled into gangs to become runners, to become lookouts and to become part of the gang-related activities,” she said. “They can manipulate these children … and they will do what they are told.”

The gangs are also becoming more violent because they are getting hold of illegal weapons that are trafficked from out of the state, according to the senator.

Queens has been the location of several gang-related crimes recently, including the murder of Kevin Miller in September. The 13-year-old was shot in St. Albans after school with a bullet fired by a reputed Crips member that was intended for a Bloods rival, according to investigators.

Gillibrand said she is working on several bills that would tackle the gang problem from different angles. A bill she is co-sponsoring in the Senate would provide funding for mentoring programs for children across the country.

Only 3 million American children take part in mentoring programs, such as the Big Brother program, and those are essential for turning youth away from the wrong path, she said.

“I asked [some children] why do people join gangs. Their answer was they have nothing to do, it’s like joining a club,” she said. “I thought it was outrageous.”

The senator said she is also trying to get a national gang zone funding program started that would map out areas of the United States that have high rates of gang violence and allocate federal funding to law enforcement, schools and other groups in the area to combat the violence.

She also said she is co-sponsoring another bill aimed at cracking down on illegal gun trafficking by imposing stricter penalties on gun salesmen who provide the weapons and criminals who use them.

“I think it will make a difference,” she said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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