Gang members spark tensions with rivals by posting pictures of themselves in each other’s neighborhoods on social media; fights between members break out over romantic entanglements; young men come out of prison with no jobs, no prospects, and no connection to the church save for their attendance at funerals.
These were some of the issues raised Thursday morning at a Boston TenPoint Coalition meeting about violence in the city held at the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, according to religious, police, and community leaders who attended.
“It was clearly stressed that the police can’t do it alone,” Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans said in an interview after the roughly two-hour meeting. “I challenged everyone in that room to step up, and if they have any solutions at all, please get them to us. We ask for everybody’s help.”
Since the first of the year, Boston has recorded ten killings, including the apparently accidental shooting death last Friday of a 9-year-old Mattapan boy by his 14-year-old brother. Nine of the killings came in January, and many of those slayings were probably gang-related, according to police. While killings are up in the city compared to last year, nonfatal shootings and major crimes such as robbery and rape have all dropped, officials said.
Thursday’s meeting was the latest that city officials have attended or organized in an effort to bring as many people as possible into the fight against violence. The TenPoint Coalition holds community meetings every month, said the Rev. Wayne Sylvester Daley, the community relations director, and every winter dedicates one meeting to violence trends.
“What we always try to do is to be in a more preventative mode,” said Daley. “That’s why we do things like this.”
About 50 people attended, representing not only clergy and police but state and county law enforcement, prison and youth services officials, and mothers who have lost children to violence, said Daley.
Evans said that the group discussed the need to create more opportunities for young people coming out of prison or whose parents are working multiple jobs; the need for parents to become more involved with their children and the community; and the need to heal neighborhoods traumatized by tragedy.
Daley said the group also discussed the ways social media can create tensions between gangs, and how problems can arise when young women date members of rival gangs. They also grappled with the question of how to prepare young people coming out of prison to lead productive lives — and how to prepare the community for their return, said meeting attendees.
“We meet them right there within 72 hours,” said Robert Lewis, founder and chief executive of Pathway to Redemption, a nonprofit that works with people reentering society after serving time to help them get jobs and establish their lives. Family and church, said Lewis, are key components of making sure people feel connected to their communities in a positive way. Often, he said, the only time young men go to church is when their friends have died. “We have to change the dynamic of what church means.”
Evans said the group mulled the possibility of candlelight walks, marches against violence, and more outreach to students, as possible ways to push back against violence. .
“I’m so proud of everyone who came here today,” Boston Police Superintendent-in-Chief William G. Gross said after the meeting. “They’re not talkers, they’re doers. The people you saw here today, they will go back out and engage the community.”