A call for mayoral candidates to address gun violence
Minister says ongoing plague of shootings ignored amid overall crime drop
A PROMINENT BLACK MINISTER who was part of the clergy-police partnership in the 1990s that helped stem gun violence in Boston is calling on the five mayoral candidates to offer more specifics on plans to address violence in the city’s neighborhoods.
Rev. Eugene Rivers, a cofounder of the Boston Ten Point Coalition that worked to quell gang violence that was raging 30 years ago, said gun violence has not received the attention it deserves in the mayor’s race. He pointed to an incident on July 5 when 37 shots were fired on Harvard Street in Dorchester’s Four Corners neighborhood and a second episode on Monday night in which 46 shots were fired on Brunswick Street in Roxbury. (No one was hit by gunfire in either incident.)
“We are issuing a moral challenge to every one of the mayoral candidates,” the outspoken Black minister said at a press briefing at the Ella J. Baker House, a youth service center he founded in the 1990s in the Four Corners neighborhood. “There has been no substantial response from the mayoral candidates to this unbelievable display of violence in the poorest and blackest neighborhoods in this city.”
While many US cities are experiencing enormous spikes in gun violence and homicides, shootings and homicides are down in Boston over the first seven months of the year compared with the same period last year. Rivers said that has led candidates and the media to focus on other issues, but he said gun violence remains a constant presence and source of fear for residents in the predominantly Black neighborhoods in Boston that are most affected by the problem.
Fatal shootings in Boston are down by almost two-thirds from the first seven months of last year, with 13 incidents compared with 30 last year, while there have been 109 nonfatal shootings compared with 130 at the same time in 2020.
Rivers said the statistics don’t tell the story of what people are experiencing in hard-hit neighborhoods. After the recent gunfire on Harvard Street, he said, “I spoke with some of the young children who were terrorized. There was an inadequate response on the part of every single candidate, including our acting mayor.”
Rivers said he is backing Acting Mayor Kim Janey, the city’s first Black leader, in the election — he called it an issue of “tribal obligations” — but he was particularly pointed in his criticism of her leadership on the issue.
“To Acting Mayor Janey: Where is your evidence-based, policy prescriptive plan for reducing violence?” Rivers asked.
Janey pointed to the decline in violent crime that has taken place.
“Obviously one shooting is too many, but I am encouraged by homicides being down 40 percent compared to this time last year and fatal shootings being down 58 percent versus this time last year,” Janey said in a statement. “I am also encouraged by our Police Department’s work to get guns off our streets, including 492 guns recovered and 372 gun arrests made.”
Other candidates in the race took issue with the charge that they have not offered plans for addressing gun violence.
“I’m committed to addressing gun violence in our neighborhoods and released a policy plan to specifically tackle this epidemic,” Annissa Essaibi George said in a statement. “The disproportionate rates of gun violence in communities of color is a result of systemic racism, the cycles of poverty, lack of opportunity, and instability and trauma in our neighborhoods bearing the brunt of this epidemic.”
Her public safety plan, released in early June, includes a call to strengthen diversion programs for young offenders. “Addressing the root causes of gun violence is needed along with addressing neighborhood safety concerns with appropriate enforcement,” the plan says.
John Barros said he knows the toll of gun violence well. “As a young man growing up in Roxbury, I witnessed the devastating impacts that drugs and violence had on my community, and dedicated myself to fixing these issues by creating positive opportunities for people in my community,” Barros said in a statement.
He released a public safety plan last week, which includes a call for a non-law enforcement “Safe and Healthy Community Agency” to respond to mental health crises and behavioral issues in schools in order to free police up to focus on preventing and solving violent crimes.
Andrea Campbell said she also knows well the violent incidents plaguing some neighborhoods. “I live in Mattapan and I too experience them,” she said in an interview.
“Absolutely work has to get done to make sure folks are safe and people committing violence are held accountable,” Campbell said. But with a heavy focus on prevention programs and other interventions, she said her public safety plan takes a two-pronged approach, “ensuring safety but also making sure folks don’t pick up a gun in the first place.”
Rivers said the city should be directing some of the $500 million in federal pandemic relief toward programming for young people aimed at preventing gun violence. But Campbell said that money is desperately needed for housing, school infrastructure, and other needs. She said more funding for youth programs aimed at reducing violence is a top priority, but emphasized her view that it can come from redirecting funds from reining in police overtime spending, which currently accounts for about $70 million of the department’s $400 million budget.
Campbell also said the department could make more officers available for police districts by dismantling the gang unit and other specialized divisions of the department, a move that she says some police captains have told her they support. “It’s redirecting that human capital back to the districts that need it the most,” she said, citing the three districts covering Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan where the bulk of the gun violence occurs.
The fifth candidate in the race, Michelle Wu, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Rivers’ challenge to the candidates.Rivers said tackling gun violence ultimately requires police and the Black community to work together, something he said Boston has done better than any city but which has been overlooked amid the focus on police wrongdoing and the legitimate racial justice issues that reform advocates have raised. “The Boston Police Department is, for a city its size, the best police department in the United States, warts and all,” he said.
He said the calls for police reform nationally and in Boston have been necessary. But he said the effort has badly skewed the conversation on gun violence in Black communities. “The Black Lives Matter business has thrown the discussion around police reform and policing out of control,” Rivers said. “One of the great ironies is that we have this explosion in violence and Black Lives Matter has disappeared.”