BOSTON—Police say they are seeing a surge in the number of gang-related attacks involving machetes, the huge knives that are a ubiquitous tool in rural Latin America, with blades as thick as an axe and nearly as long as a sword.
The troubling trend has led some departments to crack down on machetes, and not just in urban areas. Some suburban communities have also enacted new laws to ban the knives.
Last month, during a sweep of gang members in Boston, Lynn, Revere, Chelsea, Everett and Somerville, police seized not just machetes, but more exotic weapons, including Chinese throwing stars and a Japanese metal chain whip.
But machetes, which can be easily obtained at garden stores or over the Internet, are by far the most popular of the alternative weapons.
The surge in machete attacks has gained less attention than recent gun-related homicides in Boston parks, despite a spate of attacks that have left at least four Massachusetts men hospitalized this spring and summer from machete wounds.
“It seems to be that machetes are the weapon of choice,” Detective Brian Kyes, a spokesman for the Chelsea Police, told The Boston Globe. “In the past couple of years, we’ve confiscated at least 50 machetes that have been used in crimes in the city.”
Some Hispanic community leaders say the use of machetes in crime has tarnished the image of a useful tool used to cut sugarcane or clear underbrush.
“For people in El Salvador, the machete is not looked at as a weapon,” said Luis Morales, who grew up in El Salvador. He is now the pastor at the Vida Real Evangelical Center in Somerville.
Members of Boston’s Hispanic community often hang machetes on living room walls as a reminder of home or gardening.
Some say they are dismayed that the machete is increasing being seen a weapon.
“What about baseball bats? They are also used in gang-related attacks. Even a shoe can be considered a weapon if someone uses it to hit someone else,” Morales said.