“It’s hard to be a mother. You see teddy bears everywhere,” said Jeneba Biayemi, referring to the informal memorials that dot city streets. “But it’s so different now they started killing young girls.”
Biayemi stopped outside Diallo’s Halal Meat on Erie Street in Dorchester this week, a couple of blocks from the spot where a soulless shooter killed three young women and injured another Sunday night.
The killings have elicited an outrage you don’t often see when the victims are young, black men. Year after year, we’ve come to expect they will die by the dozens in Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan. As sick as this is, it almost seems natural.
But certain crimes upend the natural order. When women and children are killed, everybody pays attention. The morning after Sharrice Perkins, Genevieve Philip, and Kristen Lartey, all 22, were killed in a car on Harlem Street, Biayemi and other mothers awoke to a new quality of fear. Mothers of boys are familiar with the heart-stopping worry that they’ll get mixed up in stupid, deadly beefs. Sunday’s outrage sent more mothers of girls into those terrified ranks.
Biayemi, 48, has three girls around the same age as the women in that car. They complain about her protectiveness. They’re about to complain more.
“One says, ‘Mommy, you put us like we’re in jail,’ and I say yes,” Biayemi said. “Trust me, we’re so worried.”
Crimes like Sunday’s, or the 2010 massacre in Mattapan that killed a woman and toddler, give the lie to the notion that there is a code of honor on the street. It may exist on television, but in the real world, it doesn’t count for much. Nobody is off-limits.
Even if they aren’t directly targeted, women have always been in grave danger and still are. They are sisters, mothers, cousins, girlfriends of men. No border separates the world of mostly male violence from theirs: They live on the same streets, in the same apartments.
The victims appear to have done the right things, finished their educations, attended college, stayed close to family. Their mistake was in ever coming back to turf where neither the law nor the youth workers seem able to catch up to the terrorists.
Police say the shooting on Harlem Street wasn’t random, and they are looking into a possible gang connection. But clearly, some of the victims died simply because they were sitting in that car.
How do parents protect their daughters against that, apart from leaving the neighborhood, which many can’t afford to do?
“Do not let your kids hang around, you know?” said Wendy Miguel, 40, gesturing at a few preteens walking by her D’Dream Beauty Salon. “For fun, I take my daughter to other places.” When the 10-year-old girl walks to the salon from her home a few minutes away, Miguel watches her journey from the corner. She constantly counsels the girl about friends.
“You have to keep your children from bad boys and girls,” Miguel said.
Jahnia Sweetz, 30, was sure there was a connection between Sunday’s shooting and last year’s killing of two sisters on the same street. Police say there isn’t.
“It has to be related,” she insisted, sitting behind the counter at Island Style, a Jamaican takeout. “Why walk up on women and shoot them?”
She once lived on Harlem Street, said the mother of three, but she prefers to live on a main road now. “The worst thing that happens is a fast car,” she said.
These mothers, and so many like them, make these calculations in hope of gaining a measure of control over chaos. It’s likely that the loving parents of the four victims did this, too.
Listening to these women mapping out paths to safety, searching for reasons something awful won’t happen to their kids, one thing is painfully clear: You didn’t have to be in that car Sunday, or love the girls who were, to be a victim here.