31 December 2005

One More Globe Item

Of course, in giving up on my Week in Review after excerpting the columnists, I forgot what was likely the best piece in the paper this week --- if not this year. In yesterday's Globe, Michael Levenson and Susan Smalley wrote about 2005's tremendous spike in homicides and a corresponding steep decline in arrests.

There were 75 murders in Boston this year, a ten year high. Though the article does not provide the number of cleared cases, it does mention that:
the proportion of cases in which an arrest is made or a suspect identified, has plunged to its lowest point since at least 1993 and is now one of the worst among big US cities.
Obviously, this is a damaging trend. With Massachusetts one of the few states losing net population, news like this does not bode well for a potential population boom.

More ominously still, among the chief reasons behind the declining clearance rate are witness intimidation and fear of retaliation for talking to the cops: violence and fear mark an insular landscape where victim and perpetrator live side by side and where police are often alien to many residents' lives. The article is referring directly to Mattapan, but the sentiment applies equally to many of Boston's other neighborhoods, in which cooperating with police --- or even the appearance of cooperation --- has life-threatening consequences. Stop Snitchin' is not simply a quaint T-shirt slogan, but a necessity of life.
Coleman said the reluctance of witnesses to testify is a major barrier to solving Boston's homicides. Nearly everyone is afraid, he said.

Residents echo that view.

You've seen the shirts that say 'Stop Snitchin',' right? said Joe Matthews, 18, who was shoveling snow from his uncle's driveway on Fessenden Street the other day. That's part of what's going on out here today. It's like you snitch, you die, you know what I'm saying?
It goes without saying that I've got no silver bullet for this problem. In fact, I can't think of any realistic way to stem this tide other than increasing police presence in high-rate areas. Yet, I question the effectiveness of this possible solution as well. Earlier this summer, increased police presence and neighborhood co-ordination --- I can't remember exactly where --- attempted a take back the night promotion. That worked, for as long as the media covered it and the police were able to maintain increased patrols. But it's not a viable long-term solution.

I wonder how often this issue comes up at the State House, and even inside City Hall. The article quotes Daniel Coleman, the chief of the Boston police homicide unit, as saying, You're talking about a postage stamp of real estate for these incidents.Coleman does seem sincere and dedicated to changing the violent climate of the area, assigning an officer to work closely with the victims' families, but such a move seems a day late and a dollar short. There don't seem to have been many moves made by the city and state legislatures on the spike in homicides and the rise in apparent witness intimidation.

In fact, from the article, the activists seem to be coming from private neighborhood groups and churches. Which is fine and good, the churches have a pre-existing relationship in the neighborhoods and are more likely to be trusted to have a witness' or a victim's best interest in mind. And, given the budget messes on all levels of government, it's imperative that neighborhood's look toprivate groups to both deal with the aftermath of murder and to find ways to prevent such a culture of violence from taking root.
As residents here absorb the horrific year of loss, some church and neighborhood leaders have launched a new campaign to dismantle the culture of silence and fear. On Wednesday night in Mattapan, at the urging of the Black Ministerial Alliance and the Boston Ten Point Coalition, dozens of residents signed up to help persuade young people to turn in those responsible for the violence, accompany witnesses in court, and patrol the street at night.
Other than Coleman, there's not one response from City Hall or the State House.

Instead, we're left hoping, along with the aunt of a teenager killed this summer, If we could just get some answers or some sort of resolution, just justice -- something. If only.


Blogger Avi said...

why do you not post more?


04 January, 2006 18:15  

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