Bombs and guns
As Boston recovers, gun violence doesn’t let up
THE IMAGES AND SOUNDS from the gruesome scene that unfolded along Boylston Street in Boston are now seared in many people’s minds: The explosions, the smoke clouds that suddenly enveloped the street, the quick-thinking heroics by first responders and volunteers that saved so many whose lives were literally slipping away in rivers of blood. Finally, the chilling aftermath photos showing huge swaths of red-stained sidewalk.
Senseless carnage came to the Back Bay in those two bombs, which claimed three lives and injured more than 200, some of them gravely and permanently. But it’s also been a bloody two weeks in the city since then. As of Tuesday night, 24 people had been shot in Boston since the April 15 bombings, at least three of them fatally. It may be an uncomfortable truth to raise while the horror of the Marathon bombings is so fresh and its wounds, literal and emotional, are still raw. But the mayhem of gun violence that has wracked troubled areas of the city since the bombings has barely registered a blip.
More than $27 million has been raised through One Fund Boston, the charity set up to aid Marathon bombing victims. Our horror at ghastly acts of violence comes at least in part in proportion to the toll such violence exacts and the degree to which it is out of the ordinary. By those measures, the Marathon bombings merited all the attention and empathy that has followed, and then some. Urban street violence is not the same as acts intended to inflict mass murder and maim crowds gathered for an event that draws international attention and stands as shining testament to the human spirit. Nor can it be equated with an attack some regard as the first act of terrorism on US soil since 9/11.
That complacency has been driven home in the weeks following the bombings, says Jamarhl Crawford, a Roxbury activist and editor of Blackstonian, a website focused on black Boston neighborhoods. We are “two cities when it comes to the sharing of tragedy and pain across racial lines,” Crawford wrote this week. “The almost daily violence that occurs in Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, and the South End, which tends to impact Black, Latino and Cape Verdean [residents], is largely treated as business as usual by the local media and city and state government.”
Many of those felled by gun violence are not choir boys, which undoubtedly contributes to the apparent indifference. Some victims, however, are. In January, 13-year-old Gabriel Clarke was shot and wounded as he walked home from church choir practice along Humboldt Avenue in Roxbury. Thirteen-year-old Steven Odom was killed on his way home from playing basketball in Dorchester. And 15-year-old Louis D. Brown, whose name lives on through the peace institute his mother founded to aid other victims’ families, was caught in crossfire on his way to a meeting of a Dorchester anti-gang youth organization.
Although there has been little connection drawn between the steady toll of urban gun violence and the bombings on Boylston Street, city officials knew where to turn to find battle-scarred veterans who could help those traumatized by what they witnessed at the Marathon finish line. Youth workers who deal with the daily drumbeat of urban violence were called upon to provide counseling at the makeshift resource center set up following the bombings at the Park Plaza Castle a few blocks from the bombing sites.
“We’re the only people around who have experience in this,” says Emmett Folgert, the longtime director of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, a Fields Corner drop-in center that has been a lifeline for young people in that neighborhood for decades. More than once Folgert, an unsung hero of Boston’s battle against youth violence, has had a young Bostonian die in his arms. “It’s not something you forget,” he said.
Folgert also knows that the reality of violence-plagued neighborhoods is that there often is not the bright line seen between a literal choir boy like Gabriel Clarke and a hardened gang banger. “Eighty percent of the gun violence in Boston occurs in 5 percent of the city,” he says. “If you’re a teenager and you happen to live in that area, over time there is a virtually 100 percent chance that you’re going to see violence, be a victim, or be recruited by gangs. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when.”
Mayor Tom Menino has been at the center of these very separate worlds of Boston violence. He has been a steadfast presence showing the city’s resolve in the aftermath of the Marathon bombings. But as the co-founder with New York’s Michael Bloomberg of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, he also knows that the biggest ongoing threat to urban life comes from the unrelenting plague of guns that flood certain city neighborhoods.In a speech on Wednesday to Boston business leaders, Menino did what few have done and drew a line between those two worlds. To do so, he quoted the youngest of those killed in the bombings, 8-year-old Martin Richard. The most poignant photograph that has been shared of the Dorchester resident shows Martin holding a poster he had made. It reads: “No more hurting people. Peace.”
Now that would show a real resolve to come together as one Boston.