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The Boston Globe

Metro

Adrian Walker

Desperate for answers after shocking murders

The shock keeps reverberating from the murders of three young women in a parked car on Harlem Street last week.

A rally to call for peace was held at nearby Franklin Field on Sunday. On Wednesday, a wounded community met at a Boys and Girls’ Club on Talbot Avenue to discuss the shooting that had decisively shattered a relatively calm summer in the city.

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The people you would expect to see were all there: the mayor, the police commissioner, half the city council, state legislators. They joined stunned residents, who demanded to know what the plan was for curtailing violence in their neighborhood.

One thing was missing: good answers.

In fact, the responses were as predictable as the outrage was fresh. Mayor Thomas M. Menino appealed to the crowd for help, reminding that the police cannot solve such crimes alone. He noted the victims’ families are widely respected in the neighborhood. “They are not strangers to us,” he said.

Police Commissioner Ed Davis also pleaded for public cooperation, though he noted the public has, in fact, been coming forward. There have been no arrests to date.

Sharrice Perkins, Genevieve Philip, and Kristen Lartey, the victims in this attack, were old friends sitting in a car together, which should not be a life-threatening activity. A fourth woman, another friend, was also wounded but is expected to survive.

Some of Perkins’s relatives attended the meeting. Despite their grief, they said they were buoyed by the healthy turnout and heartfelt concerns from the neighborhood.

One of the evening’s strangest moments was provided by Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley, who talked at length about how committing crimes and going to prison can wreck your life. It would have been a nice speech in some other setting — perhaps to a group of troubled adolescents — but was jarring for an audience of law-abiding, middle-aged residents with no need to be “scared straight.”

Before long, one resident raised the simmering issue of a lack of diversity within the police department’s upper echelon. Davis replied, a bit defensively, that the department is working on it, and that this meeting was intended to address the shootings. But some seemed to feel that there is a connection between lack of progress for minority officers and the department’s ability to effectively operate in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Beyond that, residents seemed fatigued by the constant pleas to help solve homicides. No, the police can’t solve murders alone. They get that. But plenty of residents seemed to think they’ve been asked to do enough.

We’ve come a long way — in the wrong direction — from the era when the police department and the black clergy supposedly collaborated to drive down homicides and solve crimes. The triumphs of that era have been a bit exaggerated, I think, and many of the clergymen who were central to it have long since retreated from close involvement with tragedies such as this. Make no mistake, they minister to families of victims, they perform their pastoral roles. But like the neighbors, they don’t want to be expected to look for criminals. They’ve gone back to doing what ministers do. The miracle, such as it was, is over.

Eventually, the meeting lost focus. There’s only so much a community meeting can accomplish, and just so much value in venting.

What would help restore a sense of calm would be solving the crime.

Meanwhile, residents have to settle for a demonstration that their leaders care about crime in Dorchester. However well intended, that just isn’t enough.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.
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