What a world.
Somebody fires into a crowded city park, hits a 4-year-old child, cripples a community with fear. And one year later, the lowlife is still walking around.
Wednesday will mark the first anniversary of a summer night that shocked the city: A.J. Towers, playing in Harambee Park in Dorchester, got caught up in some idiotic turf battle. He lay bleeding, a bullet lodged in his lower back, while the shooter got away. Outrage ensued, and this time it spread beyond the neighborhood. People who tend to pay little heed when black teenagers die take notice when a victim is this young. The mayor vowed action. Police swarmed. Neighbors assembled, refusing to be cowed, though plenty of locals stayed away from the handsome playground by Talbot Avenue long after the shooting.
Today, A.J., 5, is fully recovered, back to being a regular little boy. He’s incredibly lucky to be alive.
But here’s how he is not lucky: He lives in a community where people who could help solve the shooting won’t, either because they’re adhering to some upside-down code of honor, or because they’re terrified. Police say there are people — including a relative of A.J’.s — who could help them but have remained silent. So where does that leave the pursuit of justice? Pretty much nowhere.
“The investigation is not active at this point,” Commissioner Ed Davis says. “If we get a wall in the neighborhood, if people refuse to say anything, it’s very difficult for us to solve it.”
The Harambee shooting reflects the immense breach between police and residents in some neighborhoods. Despite Mayor Tom Menino’s efforts, and the push to more community policing, the “stop snitchin’” culture endures, even when it comes to telling police who shot somebody you love.
This is not to minimize the courage it takes to speak up.
“I don’t know if I would recommend that an individual talk with law enforcement,” says Talia Rivera, a former streetworker who has worked with gang members. “Not because I don’t want justice for those who have been murdered or injured, but I would be afraid of the repercussions.’’ Just this month, two potential witnesses in a murder trial were stabbed in Downtown Crossing.
Still, the less willing people are to take on the lawless, the more untouchable the lawless become. Boston police solved a measly 37 percent of murders committed in 2011. “It’s a complete undoing of the justice system,” says Emmett Folgert, executive director of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative. “They devolve into warlords running around, like in a Third World country.”
Jennifer Payne was in that country on Thursday afternoon, standing in the shade at Harambee as her children squealed under the sprinklers. She had avoided the park since last year’s shooting despite stepped-up security, but it was so hot she had to come, she said. She wasn’t entirely comfortable with her decision.
“There’s still a shooter on the streets,” Payne said. “We could be walking by him, or sitting right next to him.”
She was upset to hear that a relative of the boy might have information he won’t share.
“Are you kidding me?” she said. “You’re not gonna say anything? Do something!”
That’s unlikely at this point. But a righteous uprising one day must come.
“There is a place for mothers, aunts, uncles, fathers of gang members to stand up and say ‘Stop this … you’re destroying the neighborhood,’” Davis says. On that, he and Rivera, the former streetworker, agree. But it will take time. In the meantime, police are hoping somebody involved in the Harambee shooting will get jammed up on another case, and trade information for lesser charges.
That’s entirely possible. Because those who know what happened at Harambee a year ago clearly care more about their own behinds than a 4-year-old’s.