To understand MS 13’s power in this country, one has to consider its development as a major crime organization, its control over its members, and the power it holds. Mara Salvatrucha was organized in Los Angeles in the late 1980s. In the 1980s, El Salvador was engaged in a civil war. Men attacked as guerilla fighters, training and learning how to kill anyone for anything. To escape the civil war, these men migrated to the United States. At first, the gang’s primary purpose was to defend Salvadoran immigrants from being preyed upon by other street gangs. They banded together to form MS 13.
Ernesto Miranda, co-founder of Mara Salvatrucha said, “In this country (El Salvador), we were taught to kill our own people, no matter if they were from your own blood. If your father was the enemy, you had to kill him. So the training we got during the war in our country served to make us one of the most violent gangs in the United States” (Domash). This is how MS 13 came about. The “MS” stands for Mara Salvatrucha. Mara is a word meaning “posse” and Salvatrucha means “street-tough Salvadorans”. The number 13 represents the number of a street, belonging to a gang, located in southern California (Domash).
The only way MS 13 could survive on new soil was to join together as a family and protect each other. The only allies they have are each other. MS 13 will do almost anything to keep safe. In the early days of their existence, MS 13 was once rivals with the 18th Street Gang, a mostly variation of the "maras" gangs that appeared in Los Angeles in the 1980s. SWP-18 (Salvadorans with Pride), is another major rival, and a fatal target for many devoted MS-13 prospects seeking initiation into the gang. The Latin Kings have also shown rival behaviors towards MS-13, especially in Newark NJ. Rival gangs fear them. A rival gang member in L. A said “MS13 bout’ hurting people, they go rob and kill people for no reason”(MSNBC) Organized crime is a well-thought-out process of crimes planned to be committed. This process of organized crime is a type of violence that is associated with MS 13. MS13 commits crimes from murder, rape, beating, drive-by shootings, drug dealing, smuggling illegal immigrants, trafficking weapons, prostitution, and kidnapping. Oscar Alvarez, Honduran National Police Minister, states, “cutting people in pieces, raping women, killing people for fun.
They might be youngsters, they might be poor. But these youngsters are monsters” (Domash). MS-13 often leaves behind dismembered corpses, complete with the decapitated head, at the scene of their murders. Often a grim note is attached to the body. (TerrorPlanet) In the history of MS 13, they cut off their victim's fingers and decapitate them. Sometimes they will cut off victims’ genitals and feed them to the dogs to show no mercy. One MS 13 gang member admitted that when he was in Houston, he robbed and beat a child. Then while he was in Texas, he killed a man by stabbing him three times.
This MS 13 member was asked if the crimes he committed would increase his rank within the gang. He answered, “The crazier you are known to be, the more respect the gang gives you” (Logan). MS 13 thinks the police and the community do not realize how dangerous they are; this leads their gang to go to extreme violence to get their point across that no one messes with their gang. If someone is brave enough to mess with MS 13, they will show no mercy and will make the crime even more brutal. MS 13 is becoming more dangerous and more organized. It is working its way up to becoming the next Mafia.
The rapidly growing number of MS 13 is a violent threat to the United States. Throughout the United States, MS 13 has been sighted in 42 states, ranging up to ten thousand members overall. Mara Salvatrucha is even all over the world. It already has members in five other countries. The estimated number of MS 13 gang members across the world adds up to more than 700,000 (Domash). Since there are so many MS 13 members in the world, one can recognize an MS 13 member by looking at their tattoos, symbols, gang colors, graffiti, and hand signs. MS 13 gang members mark their bodies with tattoos.
The most common tattoos are the letters MS and the number 13. They have certain symbols that they might have tattooed on themselves. For example, teardrops represent the shooting of a rival gang member. If a member has three dots in the shape of a triangle next to his thumb, it means the gang member has killed someone. By tattooing their bodies it shows how MS 13 is not ashamed of the violent acts they commit. (Domash) Hand signs and signals are also apart of MS 13. The main hand sign the gang has is called the “double horns”. This hand sign is similar to the same symbol commonly seen displayed by heavy metal musicians and their fans.
Also, when one is about to go into battle, or a fight, they will lift up both sides on the shoulders of their shirts to indicate he or she is about to start. Whenever a gang member rubs one’s stomach in a circular motion, the member is about to shoot someone, and whenever one brushes off one’s shoulder; the member is about to stab his victim (World’s Most Dangerous Gang). This lets the MS 13 members know what is about to happen in the fight. Fights also play a huge role in initiation. To be initiated into a violent gang like MS 13, one has to be violent or have something violent done to them.
The three main initiations that MS have are “walk the line”, “jumped in”, and “sexed in”. Whenever they choose to “walk the line” to join, they must perform a violent act (“Worlds Most Dangerous Gang”). A boy’s mission is to walk up to a group of rival gang members on the street and shoot at least one of them. In being “walked in”, after one commits their violent act, one cannot run from it but walk away (“Worlds Most”). Being “jumped in” requires the one getting initiated, to be surrounded by the five strongest guys in the gang, and they will start to beat the person for thirteen seconds, representing the 13 in MS 13.
The last and final way one can enter the gang is to be “sexed in”. Females are usually the only ones who have to go through this to get initiated. This is when a girl is having sexual intercourse with a minimum of six members of the MS 13. The whole point of being initiated into MS 13 is to show how dedicated the joining member is and how far they will go for MS 13. Since the inductee is now a permanent member of the gang, they have three jobs that they have to fulfill: to recruit others, collect money, and to kill (“World’s Most Dangerous Gang”). As in every business, MS 13 has to earn a living somehow too.
According to the interview between Lisa Ling and Jester, a former MS 13 member, told her that certain blocks in L. A. are owned by MS 13. Whatever businesses are located on the street, must pay a twenty-five percent protection fee to MS 13. They also collect money from selling drugs and taxing the drug dealers who want to sell drugs on their territory. These are the drugs they sell: crystal meth, cocaine, heroin, rock, weed, and various pills. Jester said, “If you need any kind of pills, don’t go to the doctor. (“Worlds Most”)When Lisa Ling asked Jester, “What if they don’t pay? Jester responded, “They always pay. Sometimes you’ve got to get aggressive with them” (World’s Most). MS 13 knows that they can get however much money that they want because they are such a fierce gang. One of the worst things that a member can do when joining the gang is to try and get out. In MS 13 there is no way to leave the gang without getting killed unless the escapee goes to the hospital, jail, or death (Logan). If any runaway member ever goes to the police and betrays their clique, MS 13 will make sure that their life ends quickly.
Once one becomes a part of the gang, one is in it for life and there is no turning back or getting out. MS 13 is spreading its violent tactics across the United States, and it is growing larger in numbers, building an empire of strength and power. Their crime organization development continues to grow stronger and wiser as time goes by, and their growing population of MS 13 members in the United States will increase the crime rates. Before Brenda Paz was murdered by her own gang, MS 13, she emphasized the importance and loyalty that MS 13 gang members have.
She stated, “You live for God, you live for your mom, but you die for your gang” (World’s Most”). MS 13’s control in America has shown that it is a major crime organization that cannot be stopped. They have complete control over their members which makes MS 13 an army of violence. Whatever is said is done. There is no negotiating. What MS 13 says goes. While the nation focuses on terrorism, the issue of gang violence has taken a lower priority. But to many, the violent acts of MS13 are more of an everyday threat that is being overlooked.