Racial Tensions Create Concern

Ed Lewis, Times Leader, February 19, 2012

Some students at Wilkes-Barre Area’s GAR High School say the assault involving a freshman who nearly lost his hand from a machete attack 10 days ago was the result of rival tensions between students of African-American and Dominican heritage.

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City police officers warned privately about hostilities between the different races that have moved into the neighborhood in recent years. During a break at a hearing in Wilkes-Barre Central Court two months ago, a casual conversation involving officers, a district judge, a lawyer and a reporter centered on racial tensions in the GAR neighborhood.

Those officers predicted some sort of violence, especially with teenagers and young adults whom they described as “gang wannabes.”

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Law enforcement authorities are still investigating what role—if any—gang rivalry played in the machete assault near GAR.

“Gang members are dangerous no matter what sect they come from,” said Robert Maguire, chairman of the Lackawanna County Gang Task Force. “Wannabes are the most dangerous of all. They want to be part of something; they want to do something to get noticed.”

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Unfortunately, the violence that city police officers predicted in late 2011 involved a 15-year-old boy near GAR on Feb. 9. Police said the victim is black and the attacker, Juan Borbon, 19, is Hispanic.

Police late Friday night charged Borbon with swinging the machete and Yansy Abreu, 16, as an accomplice for carrying the weapon in a bag, according to the criminal complaint. Borbon remains at large.

Abreu was charged as an adult with multiple charges of aggravated assault, simple assault, assault with a deadly weapon and conspiracy. {snip}

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Police said Abreu and Borbon are from the Dominican Republic. Abreu, a student at the Alternative Learning Center in Plains Township, has been in the United States for about a year and was residing on Wyoming Street, Wilkes-Barre, police said.

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The witness claimed Abreu, Borbon and others were outside GAR and ran toward a group of black juveniles. A fight erupted as a black juvenile was on the ground being kicked, the criminal complaint says.

The victim attempted to pull the boy away from the group when Borbon came from behind and swung the machete, severely slashing the 15-year-old’s wrist, police allege.

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Students, on the other hand, say the assault was about power and control among the young people.

“At times there are racial tensions, yes,” said Wilkes-Barre Area Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Namey. “I can’t say we don’t have racial tensions. Is it something out of our control or are there gangs in the school? When someone asks me are there racial tensions, I have to say yes. Not only at GAR but other schools, too.”

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Inside the school, the frequency of scanning students entering GAR with hand-held metal detectors has been stepped up since the machete attack.

Namey said screenings are randomly conducted in the other two city high schools, Coughlin and Meyers.

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A contributing factor that leads to increased violence and delinquency in and around schools is the influx of families moving to Northeastern Pennsylvania from the bigger cities, experts say.

“With the culture moving into the area from New York and New Jersey, some of these kids are exposed to gangs in the bigger cities,” Maguire said. {snip}

Old Forge Police Chief Larry Semenza said families from bigger cities are attracted to the region due to the lower cost of living.

“The demographics in Northeastern Pennsylvania have changed in the last 20 years,” Semenza said. “The home-grown families are dying off or moving away, leaving their houses to be sold and turned into apartments and duplexes. When families from the bigger cities move here because it’s cheaper to live and work here, they bring that bigger city lifestyle and mindset with them, having grown up in that culture.”

Maguire, Marinello and Semenza believe the problem of turf battles between different ethnic groups, especially in schools, has been growing for years throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania, fueled in part by the illegal drug trade.

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