Clergy and residents in Roxbury and Dorchester called Sunday for renewed efforts to oppose gang violence in the aftermath of a deadly start to the year.
At Roxbury’s Twelfth Baptist Church, the Rev. Jeffrey L. Brown prayed that God would “stay the hand of violence” in all the city’s neighborhoods.
“I pray . . . that you talk to these young people who are at risk of violence, who are ensconced in the violence, Lord,” Brown said from the pulpit. “And Lord, speak to us today, help us to stand . . . in our neighborhoods, in our community.”
Brown, a cofounder of the anticrime Boston TenPoint Coalition, was among a group of clergy who met Wednesday with Boston Police Commissioner William Evans and Superintendent in Chief William Gross to discuss ways to end the killings.
A spate of shootings during the previous weekend brought Boston’s homicide total for January to nine, the highest number for that month in years. Statistics provided by Boston police show that the January death toll has not been comparably high since 2008, when it reached eight.
Police have said the killings and other, nonfatal, shootings appear to be gang-related.
Parishioners leaving Twelfth Baptist said police and community members need to step up to end the violence.
Dorchester resident Charlotte Burton, 53, called on police to send a message to young people.
“The police should meet with the gang leaders and express the need to stop the violence for our future youth, because the children are seeing that, and feeling that, and thinking that’s the way things ought to be,” Burton said.
Eva Grant said she is sometimes afraid to leave her Roxbury home after dark to come to the church’s Friday evening prayer service. She said she would like to see more police walking beats and speaking directly to residents in the troubled sections of the city.
“Introduce the kids to them, because the kids are very important; they’re the key to the violence that is going on,” said Grant, 48.
Evans said shortly after being sworn in as commissioner that assigning more officers to walk beats is one of his top priorities.
Police said Sunday that increased patrols and a greater focus on suspected drug and gang activity had led to the seizure of six illegal guns on Friday and Saturday.
“This should send a strong message to those who possess illegal firearms that when it comes to combating gun violence, our officers are out there and fully committed to making our city the safest city it can be,” Evans said in a statement.
And, despite the rise in homicides, statistics provided by police show that serious crimes, including robberies, assaults, and rapes, were down 9 percent overall through Jan. 26, compared with the same period last year.
In interviews Sunday, faith leaders from three Dorchester churches offered suggestions for ways to stop the slayings.
The Rev. Bruce Wall, of Global Ministries Christian Church, said he would like to see a sociological study.
“We’ve been missing the fact that there are clergy who are actually chaplains in the jails,” he said, and those clergy could contribute to leaders’ understanding of urban violence.
Wall said he wanted to see a long-term plan developed that would not only reduce homicides in the near term, but maintain peace.
He said Wednesday’s meeting with Gross was “inspirational,” and he appreciated “having a chief of color who knew us and knew us by name, who understood us, who could crack jokes with us.
“But if all of this is a press conference, if this is just for the media to show the police and clergy together, I don’t want to be a part of it,” he said.
Mark V. Scott, associate pastor of the Azusa Christian Community, said in a phone interview that he spoke to his congregation Sunday about the need to work with the judicial system to ensure that people with criminal records are kept in check. Scott said he emphasized “concrete, specific” action.
Police “shared the list of the groups, these gangs, that are involved with this. It’s not a long list. There are maybe a half dozen groups that are involved,” he said. “We can go talk with them.”
At Greater Love Tabernacle Church, the Rev. William E. Dickerson II, who also attended the meeting with police, told a reporter that he is pleased to see officers interacting with community members.
“They’re out of their cars, they’re in the gyms, they’re engaging. It means a lot,” he said.
He said he would like to see more job-training programs, or an expansion of existing programs. People need to care for their families financially, he said, and can turn to gangs when there are no other options.
Pointing to the so-called Boston Miracle, when antiviolence efforts led by a coalition of police and clergy reduced homicides in the city from 152 in 1990 to 31 in 1999, Dickerson said effective techniques already exist.
“It’s not rocket science,” Dickerson said. “Some of the stuff that worked for us years ago can work now. And whatever needs to be modified, we can modify.”