Boston officials need to fund violence prevention

‘We need funding, not performative politics’

BOSTON MAYOR MARTY WALSH recently submitted his proposed fiscal 2020 operating and capital budget to the Boston City Council. From April 22 to May 21, the City Council held hearing after hearing on specific line items and proposed capital improvements.

In all of this deliberation, there was one glaring omission: no hearing, and not a single line-item, on violence prevention.

As temperatures rise and city officials hold forth about plans to combat an anticipated increase in violence, the city lacks any comprehensive plan for violence prevention.

On Monday, Walsh, Police Commissioner William Gross, and District Attorney Rachael Rollins held a press conference at Boston Police headquarters, along with members of local clergy. While officials noted youth jobs as a proactive solution to a summer spike in violence, the press conference focused on traditional law enforcement tactics and efforts to create positive experiences between youth and police.

Communities have long demanded a different approach. And we have the research to back it up.

We know violence prevention requires community leadership, a holistic set of solutions, and a coordinated approach with robust funding to enact those solutions. Cities like Richmond, California, and Oakland, California, are proof of concept: investments in community-driven programs, with community voices leading the way, dramatically drive down violence.

Despite meetings with Mayor Walsh and personal outreach to city councilors, community activists still have to fight to be heard, let alone heeded. And the budget process is proceeding full steam ahead, without embracing a community-driven plan to reduce and prevent violence.

The City Council is open to holding hearings on a violence prevention plan, but only after the budget process will have wrapped up. This is a hollow gesture. We need funding, not performative politics, when there are lives at risk.

This is not hyperbole or melodrama: this is daily life. We are parents who have experienced and continue to face these risks. We have seen this harm directly, but we are not alone. Shots ring out in our neighborhoods as our children and our neighbors’ children walk home from school on a regular basis. We speak to give voice to all those who worry daily whether their children will make it home.

A holistic response to gun violence is a matter of racial justice. Communities of color plagued by decades of deliberate disinvestment know how to prevent and transform violence. Communities want justice for victims of crime, but most prefer rehabilitation to punitive responses. We cannot arrest our way out—especially when aggressive policing doesn’t address root causes of violence and too often harms the same communities affected by it, sending generations of young black and brown men to jail and prison.

We need to prevent violence, not police it after the fact. Operation Ceasefire became known around the world as the Boston Miracle, but Boston has abandoned our namesake approach and street outreach alone doesn’t avert gun violence. As reported in a 1996 study by Janet Reno, the Boston Miracle relied on a wide range of programs to reduce youth violence. We’ve known for 25 years that the key is community buy-in and simultaneous efforts to build up communities debilitated by disinvestment and structural racism.

Researchers support and communities demand lead abatement, enhanced street lighting, refurbishing abandoned buildings, eliminating blight, and cleaning and greening; hospital-based violence interventions; enhanced youth opportunities that pay a living wage; community-led, community-based re-entry programs; affordable housing; food security; access to a quality education; trauma and mental health services to process grief and avoid retaliatory shootings; and community-based restorative justice to redress harm.

A violence prevention plan for Boston must include a wide range of initiatives, as well as a community accountability board to review nonprofits receiving funding for violence prevention.

As we continue to engage with Mayor Walsh and the City Council, we need them both to commit to funding a violence prevention plan.

Boston already has a renewable resource to tackle this problem even in its most under-resourced communities: community organizers engaged in this work. To build trust and repair harm, Boston must (1) hold a hearing on violence prevention before the budget process ends; (2) adopt a comprehensive plan and allocate funding for violence prevention; and (3) ensure a wide range of community leaders are engaged in every step of the process.

Meet the Author

Monica Cannon-Grant

Director, Violence in Boston Inc.
Meet the Author

David J. Harris

Managing director, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice Harvard Law School
We know what the problem is. And we know how to address it. The question remains: why won’t Boston’s elected officials fund solutions?

Monica Cannon-Grant is founder and director of Violence in Boston, Inc. David J. Harris is managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School.