With homicides, a tale of two very different cities

Is it possible to maintain a fierce urgency to reduce gun violence in Boston, while also taking stock of how much worse things could be and being grateful for the things the city gets right when it comes to the issue?

It was hard to avoid those thoughts after reading Alec MacGillis’s gripping story in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. MacGillis unspools the dispiriting saga of murder and mayhem in Baltimore, where a mix of corrupt and abusive policing, unsteady mayoral leadership, and a revolving door in the police commissioner’s office have contributed to scale of violence that seems unimaginable in Boston.

In 2017, Baltimore recorded 342 murders, a higher rate than any US city with a population greater than 500,000. Boston experienced 57 homicides that year. The two cities are of roughly comparable size, with Boston’s 2017 population estimated to be 685,000 and Baltimore’s pegged at 615,000

Incredibly, Baltimore’s 2017 murder count was a higher absolute number than seen that year in New York, a city with a population 14 times that of Baltimore.

Following the 2015 death in police custody of Freddie Gray, calls for reform of the Baltimore’s police intensified, as residents slammed police practices in the city.  A 2016 federal Department of Justice investigation accused the department of using excessive force and engaging in racial discrimination, a finding that led to a consent decree setting forth conditions for how the department would operate with a federal judge in an oversight role.

Though the federal oversight may have been warranted, the lack of confidence in local officials’ ability to manage the department only seems to have contributed to the chaos in the streets. Wary of overstepping boundaries, it contributed to what everyone called the “pullback,” a retreat by officers from intervening in situations in response to calls for service.

Tony Barksdale, a black Baltimore cop who served at one point as interim commissioner but was passed over for the permanent post, told MacGillis that the federal consent decree was preventing cops from even brooming people from known drug-dealing corners. “The criminals are so emboldened now,” he said. Barksdale had, as a deputy commissioner, developed a strategy of focusing on high-impact players on the street, an approach that coincided with a drop in homicides early in the decade as well as a big reduction in arrest numbers.

By 2017, MacGills writes, Baltimore’s new mayor, Catherine Pugh, was convinced that the solution was to focus on root causes of violence. The efforts included recruiting the Boston-area nonprofit Roca to come work with at-risk young people in Baltimore. But MacGillis said Pugh ignored the fact that dealing with gun violence isn’t an either/or matter of policing strategies or long-term focus on roots causes. Pugh’s focus on the latter, he writes, “risked overlooking the most immediate dilemma: People inclined toward lawbreaking increasingly thought they could do so with impunity.”

Despite the sense of a broad urban renaissance in America, two very different storylines have actually been playing out in US cities. Those living in places like New York and Boston have experienced “a wave of reinvestment coupled with a plunge in crime rates that has left many major cities to enjoy a sort of post-fear existence,” writes MacGillis. As for Baltimore, where he’s lived 11 of the last 18 years, he writes, “I have struggled to describe its unraveling to friends and colleagues elsewhere.”

Of course, there’s no single cause for the wildly different profiles of the two cities when it comes to homicide rates. It’s also important to note that big areas of Boston hardly enjoy a “post-fear existence.” But the article makes clear the corrosive effect of the constant churn in the leadership of the Baltimore police department, police corruption, the lack of consistent cooperation between various law enforcement agencies, and an inability to strike a balance between responsible and respectful policing of black neighborhoods and targeted efforts to combat violent crime.

Boston has experienced steady, and broadly-praised, to a previously passed measure in Massachusetts pledging the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote for president once enough states sign on to control the 270 electoral votes needed to elect a president. (Boston Herald)

Ten Fall River residents have filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the March 12 election that recalled Mayor Jasiel Correia and then returned him to office. The suit seeks to make runner-up Paul Coogan mayor. (Associated Press)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Tax revenue from marijuana sales in the state is way behind projections with the slow rollout of stores and the more remote location of the first shops to open largely blamed. (Boston Globe)

Chris Faraone in DigBoston writes the Somerville Licensing Commission is waiving application fees for cannabis dispensaries.

EDUCATION

The Massachusetts Teachers Association questions the legality of New Bedford giving a school property to the Alma del Mar charter school as part of a state-orchestrated deal on the charter’s expansion. (CommonWealth)

Gregg Gilligan, the superintendent of North Andover schools, told parents the district will hire an attorney to review its handling of harassment, but he is still not commenting on the school’s practice of asking alleged sexual assault victims to sign safety plans restricting their movement, the Eagle-Tribune reports. Attorney Wendy Murphy criticized the school’s approach, and attorney Naomi Shatz noted public school districts need to provide an education to all students in town. (Eagle-Tribune)

Over a hundred parents in Brockton have written letters to Gov. Charlie Baker saying their children’s’ schools need more funding, as teaching staff continues to be slashed. (Brockton Enterprise)

TRANSPORTATION

Mike Stanley, whose Boston-area company Transit X has been pitching cities on his idea of travel via overhead pod, has been exposed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a convicted sex offender who preyed on young girls and changed his name five years ago.

Gina Fiandaca, Boston’s rather reticent commissioner of transportation, is leaving to take a job as assistant city manager in Austin, Texas. Findaca’s salary will rise from $145,000 to $235,019. (Boston Globe)

Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell said there is a “sense of urgency” around reducing traffic crashes and that will be reflected in the city budget. (WGBH)

The Southeastern Regional Transit Authority says night service is coming to New Bedford and Fall River, with two routes having their weekday schedules extended. (Herald News)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Quincy officials say they’re angry federal prosecutors are ignoring the city’s role in cleaning up the Boston Harbor as well as its ongoing efforts, which include more than $30 million in spending on sewer repairs over the last 28 years. US Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office sued Quincy last week, saying it violated the Clean Water Act. (Patriot Ledger)

CASINOS

The room reservation system for Encore Boston Harbor in Everett is up and running even though the Massachusetts Gaming Commission still has to decide whether Wynn Resorts should be allowed to retain its casino license. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Florida prosecutors have offered to drop charges of soliciting prostitutes against Patriots owner Robert Kraft and 25 other men if they admit they would have been found guilty at trial. (Boston Globe)

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins tells Greater Boston that her office is in a “transition phase” as far as making good on her promise to stop prosecuting certain minor crimes, and she was not surprised by a recent American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts finding that black people are more often charged with minor offenses.

MEDIA

Lowell Sun columnist Peter Lucas delivers his thumbs-down verdict on the Boston Globe’s story suggesting Rep. Paul McMurtry of Dedham touched the backside of a freshman legislator and says all those involved should be named.. “It was phony story concocted by several legislators with an agenda. It caused havoc and confusion within the House, and damaged McMurtry’s reputation,” Lucas says.