Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh clasped Mirna Ramos’s hand. Her murdered son’s smiling face adorned a button over her heart, inscribed with a promise: “Always and forever, we will love you.”
“How are you?” Walsh asked her.
“Like all mothers,” she told him, “waiting for justice for my son.”
It has been almost a year and a half since her 19-year-old son Jorge Fuentes was shot to death outside her Dorchester home while he walked his family’s dog, and police have not made an arrest. Police say they are working on it, but do not give her updates, Ramos told the mayor Saturday during a Mothers for Justice and Equality breakfast at Faith Christian Church in Dorchester.
“I’ll make a call to the commissioner today,” Walsh promised her. “The answer might be the same, it could be different though. At least I’ll put it on the radar.”
Walsh pledged during remarks at the breakfast to bring police, school and city officials, and community activists together to work to reduce street violence, saying that in the past, the groups have been working hard — but separately.
“When we talk about violence in our city, everyone kind of gets defensive,” he said to the crowd of about 50. “You talk to the reverends, [they say]: ‘Well, we’re doing our work.’ You talk to the mothers groups: ‘We’re doing our work.’ You talk to police: ‘We’re doing our work.’ You talk to the DA: ‘We’re doing our work.’ I’m not saying people aren’t doing their work, what I’m saying is, we need to do it differently. We need to coordinate services.”
As an example, he pointed to his recent decision to name a Suffolk County prosecutor and a former probation officer to lead a new initiative aimed at curbing violence. Assistant District Attorney Daniel Mulhern, chief of the office’s gang unit, and former Dorchester District Court probation officer Leon Graves will help synchronize antiviolence efforts between city departments and come up with solutions to root causes of violence.
“We’re gonna take these two gentlemen out, and we’re gonna put them in the office, and we’re gonna upset people,” he said, to a round of applause. “But I don’t care about upsetting people. . . . The entire city needs to come together on this.”
This year in Boston began with nine homicides in January, the highest rate the city has seen in years. This month, a 9-year-old Mattapan boy was shot and killed by his 14-year-old brother, who police have said was playing with a loaded gun when it went off. On Thursday night, the city saw its 11th homicide of the year in Mattapan with the shooting death of a man in his 20s.
The Saturday breakfast was organized by Mothers for Justice and Equality, a Roxbury-based organization that aims to end neighborhood violence and whose membership is largely composed of women who have lost family members to street violence. Much of Walsh’s time there was dedicated to answering questions — first, talking to people one-on-one, and, after his remarks, fielding queries at the front of the room.
“When I hear about the Boston Miracle, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth,” Mari Adams told Walsh, referring to the period during the 1990s when the homicide rate in the city plummeted. “My son was murdered in 1994. . . . Why not work on unsolved homicides?”
Walsh said that officials have to crack the silence that surrounds crime in the city.
“If you solve the murder, God only knows how many people the person who took your son’s life, [how many] lives he’s taken,” said Walsh. “I’ll talk to the police. . . . I will ask about the unsolved murders in the city of Boston.”
Adams came to the breakfast with a folder full of fliers showing pictures of her son, Michael Adams, and offering a $100,000 cash reward for information leading to the arrest and indictment of his killer. She gave one to the mayor’s staff, she said, and will “hold him at his word” on his pledge to ask about unsolved cases.
Walsh also promised to work to ensure more jobs for teenagers and young people, and he encouraged a group of high school students to go to college.
Monalisa Smith, founder of Mothers for Justice and Equality, said that for many of the women at the breakfast, being able to tell the mayor their child’s story was an important way to guard against descent into hopelessness and isolation.
“It puts value on their child’s life, that loved one’s life, that that did matter,” said Smith. “When we have the head of our city coming into our community and listening to us, it shows that our children’s lives do matter. And our community matters to him. I think it’s all part of the healing of the city, and joining us all together.”