After running through Williamsburg bodega waving a machete Thursday night, 18-year-old Benedict Reyes was arrested by an officer from the 90th precinct for criminal possession of a weapon. According to the Brooklyn DA’s office, Reyes claims he was brandishing the small sword to ward off a group of guys he’d been fighting with.
It might seem weird that Reyes, who has several priors, was wielding a gardening tool in a fight. But just a block away from where he was collared, two men had been attacked with machetes last summer. The case is still open, and it’s part of
the reason councilmember Diana Reyna wants to ban the lengthy knives.
Talking to the Bronx’s Arnaldo Salinas can convince a person that machetes are New York City’s next big problem. A Guardian Angel, private investigator, and security company owner, Salinas says machetes started showing up about six and a half years ago as Latino gangs expanded, and have become the weapon of choice for lots of them. Cheap, mortal, and easy to wipe down after use, the cutlasses are also unlikely to earn you jail time, he says: “The cops might make you throw it in the sewer or something. but that’s it.”
A lawyer confirmed for us that doesn’t appear to be anything specifically about machetes in the New York penal code.
Machetes have other advantages. They can be sharpened to a nice edge with an iron file and some patience. And they can be poisoned, just like in Hamlet. Salinas explains that some thugs know how to make a toxic mixture out of common pantry items, which they then slather on the blade. (He revealed to us the recipe on the condition that it not be published; we’ll only say that it sounds like something that could kill you.)
But for reportedly machete-toting gangs like MS-13, the Trinitarios,
and Dominicans Don’t Play (DDP) — all operating in various parts of the city — the lure of the machete may have as much to do with intimidation as pragmatism. “Gangs live and breathe terrorism,” Salinas explains, “and the machete is the way to do it.” Hacking someone with a machete is much more “poignant,” he says, than shooting them with a gun.
Salinas says he’s been stabbed and shot at it in his quest to rid communities of gangs, but still shudders at the idea of confronting a machete attack. “I’d rather face death by gun than disfigurement by machete,” he says. “I don’t want to walk around with two fingers less.”
He says it’s a real possibility: Whenever his company does security for NYC cultural events, along with stuff like hunting knives and switchblades, they confiscate a pile of machetes.
Whenever Salinas tells gang-members to hand them over their machetes — even at guarded events where they’re not likely to need them — he says they’re reluctant give him a bunch of lame-to-funny excuses: Everything from, “I’m a landscaper,” to “I carry it for luck” to “my shaman blessed this…”
He says it’s because it’s tied to their sense of identity. “The machete is embedded into the Latin culture,” says Salinas, who’s of Puerto Rican descent himself. “It’s a symbol of strength.”
Photo (cc) pinkmoose.