For years, politicians have attempted to spin the significance of the gang problem that exists in New Bedford. The current administration has suggested in the past that the problem was with "gang wannabes" and not a full-fledged infiltration of gangsters.

The facts can no longer be disputed: New Bedford has a serious gang issue.

"Operation Throne Down" has made it impossible to deny not only that the problem exists but that the magnitude of the problem is considerably worse than most might have imagined. Unless, of course, you are a resident of the near North End who has had to live with the drug dealing and violence, the scope of which was revealed yesterday by the U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling and the FBI.

Federal authorities led a massive East Coast raid on the Latin Kings street gang with the epicenter of that raid in New Bedford due to the level of violence and drug dealing that has occurred in the city. In all, some five dozen members of the Latin Kings were arrested, including at least 46 in Massachusetts – nearly two dozen of them here in New Bedford.

Lelling says Latin King members rented tenements of Tallman Street, North Front Street, and Sawyer Street, allegedly paying landlord Robert Avitabile, an alleged gang associate, in drug money and prostitutes. All of this within 1,000 feet of the Global Learning Charter School.

Lelling says at least 28 firearms were seized, including an AR-15 rifle and a sub-machine gun with a silencer. Also seized in the raids was six cars, six motorcycles, three jet skis, an ATV, $38,000 in cash and various drugs. Lelling detailed the violent relationship between the Latin Kings and the rival gang Gangster Disciples.

Local officials have long been frustrated by the lenient court system that seems to process these violent offenders through a turnstile. The rapid turnaround from arrest to release has been a frustration for local police. Will "Operation Throne Down" make much a difference?

How many of these offenders are here illegally? How many have already made bail and are back out on the streets? There is a tremendous demand for illicit drugs in New Bedford and the surrounding area, and as long as there is, there will be gangs at the ready to deliver the goods. A law enforcement official once told me that raids such as this simply disrupt the flow of drugs for a while but when a distributor is taken off from the streets, at least one more moves in to fill the void.

The gangs are all about the drug trade, and the only way to efficiently eliminate the gang activity is to eliminate the demand for the drugs. Now, therein lies the challenge.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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