BRENTWOOD, N.Y. — MS-13 may be the most notorious street gang in the country and throughout North America. The parents of one of their victims is now taking a stand against the gang in an unexpected way.
"I will wear her sneakers 'til they fall off me," said Elizabeth Alvarado, 48, about the shoes of her daughter, Nisa Mickens. "These are her sneakers," her mother said, pointing to the bright green high tops on her feet. "I am walking in her shoes for her victory."
Nisa was walking with her best friend, Kayla Cuevas, 16, last September when they were snatched off the street. The two were beaten to death with baseball bats.
Cuevas had apparently disputed with some MS-13 affiliated teens online, and the gang retaliated,investigators say. They were killed one day before Mickens's 16th birthday.
The loss hit her parents hard, but they say they're growing from it.
"I have a way to reach the youth," said Robert Mickens, Nisa's father. "It's about the energy we give off when you speak to people."
He is running for the school board for the district in which his daughter's school, Brentwood High School, is located. Many of the 11 MS-13-related Long Island murder victims over the last year were high school age.
"Being aware of gangs," Mickens said, is a key to helping young people break the power of gangs. He called for information about how gangs operate, their recruitment methods and their signs to be added to the curriculum, as well as "teaching [students] how to.. speak up. It should be state mandatory at this point."
Those educational elements are actually part of a New York State Senate bill with firm support in Albany.
The bill also criminally defines street gangs for the first time and increases penalties for gang-related crimes.
That, along with assurances given to them by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rep. Peter King, Republican of Long Island, have left the Mickens Family confident that the gang problem can be squashed.
At the same time, they said, it won't happen overnight.
"It's still a work in progress," said Robert Mickens. "It's not that a small group of a hundred is what they're dealing with, [that] they can round up and that's it."
He sees his candidacy as another weapon in the fight against gang violence, "whether I win or not," he told PIX11 News. The election is on May 16th.