Editorial: Gang conversation useful for those who showed up

Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa at Tuesday's community meeting in Greenport. (Credit: Grant Parpan)
Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa at Tuesday’s community meeting in Greenport. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

The Guardian Angels will not rid the North Fork of gangs. Nor will the Southold Town Police Department or any sort of law enforcement task force.

No elected official will ever put forward a magical piece of legislation that solves the problem, either. And while school administrators can discipline or expel any student they suspect is involved in gang activity, there will always be some element of it in our schools and on our streets. 

This is reality. It has been for some time.

Perhaps the most important part of Tuesday night’s community discussion with Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa in Greenport was the acknowledgement by many in the audience that we do have a gang problem on the North Fork. Is it South Central L.A.? No. But a recent shooting in a quiet neighborhood in town is an all-too-real indication of what lies beneath the surface in town. Unfortunately, too many people are still in denial about that.

While no one person or group will ever completely erase gangs, if representatives from all segments of the community band together, some proactive measures can have a positive effect.

That’s why it was disappointing to notice that several North Fork community leaders were not present at Tuesday’s meeting. The chief of police, the town supervisor, the mayor of Greenport and all four local school superintendents did not show. It was at least good to see several school board members and two elected Greenport officials in the audience. The town, however, was glaringly absent.

It’s not often that so many concerned residents representing different races, ethnicities and interests gather together for a constructive conversation. Setting aside Mr. Sliwa’s unique brand of publicity and politics — the man certainly rubs some people the wrong way — Tuesday’s meeting was the type of frank discussion about society’s flaws that we’re often reluctant to have.

Supervisor Scott Russell said he’s been discussing the gang issue daily with Police Chief Martin Flatley, who he said is coordinating his efforts with District Attorney Thomas Spota and other law enforcement agencies.

“I am quite confident that this approach will be most effective at addressing the issue of gang violence in Southold,” he said.

We’d agree with that statement, but having the town and school administrators present at Tuesday’s meeting to hear from concerned residents and update them on efforts being made would also have been an effective approach.

Our cover story this week states that town and village officials plan to meet with local law enforcement and school officials to discuss the gang problem. Afterward, they’re expected to meet privately with Mr. Sliwa. Perhaps that meeting can be opened to the public.

An opportunity to have all the players in the room was missed Tuesday. Let’s not make that mistake again.

Correction: In the print edition of this story, it incorrectly said certain officials had not been formally invited to the meeting.