Metro

After spasm of violence, residents of South End march for peace

Residents, clergy, and police officials were among about 70 people at the peace event in the South End Thursday.
Keith Bedford/Globe Staff
Residents, clergy, and police officials were among about 70 people at the peace event in the South End Thursday.

The South End, with its mix of tony nightspots and busy social service agencies, has long bridged the chic and the gritty.

But recently, residents and community leaders say, things have taken a darker turn.

They have noticed a surge in addicts wandering dazed into traffic, people camping out in neighborhood parks, and homes being broken into.

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And then four shootings, including a homicide, in a weeklong period earlier this month struck at the very soul of the South End, a neighborhood transformed from its skid row past to its trendy present. The shootings prompted a peace march Thursday night, a community meeting Wednesday, and calls for increased police presence.

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Crime is actually down from a year ago, police say. But that has done little to diminish concerns on the streets and inside the homes of the neighborhood.

“For me, it feels worse than at any time in the past 10 years,’’ said longtime resident Scott Lush, a board member of the Claremont Neighborhood Association.

At the community meeting, Police Commissioner William B. Evans tried to allay fears, saying that the shootings involved people known to police and that the South End has improved dramatically over time.

“It’s not like things are spiraling out of control,” Evans said.

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Major crime in the South End has declined 15 percent from 2014 to the present, according to the most recent Boston Police Department data.

Last year, there were 11 South End shootings in which a victim was injured. This year there have been five.

Incidences of robberies, larcenies, auto thefts, and burglaries also decreased in the South End, an area the police define as bounded by Albany and East Berkeley streets and Warren, Columbus, and Massachusetts avenues, ending at Melnea Cass Boulevard.

By comparison, there have been 14 homicides in Roxbury so far this year compared with 10 during the same period last year, police data show. Last year, five homicides were recorded in the South End; so far this year, there has been one.

“We have a lot more violence in some of Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester, and we work hard every day to bring [crime statistics in] those neighborhoods down,” Evans said. “This is one homicide [in the South End]. We should all be alarmed by it, but it’s a safe neighborhood.”

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Steve Fox, who has lived in the neighborhood 30 years and chairs the South End Forum, which includes representatives of 15 neighborhood associations, said the data do not always tell the whole story. The way he and other residents see it, he said, shootings and incidents involving addicts are encroaching on the South End’s quality of life.

‘For me, it feels worse than at any time in the past 10 years.’

“The statistics will tell you there is no crime wave,’’ Fox said. “But we’ve seen in the past couple of weeks an accelerated rate of gun violence. . . . It is safe to say in the South End, this is an unusual surge for us.”

Lush, the board member at the Claremont Neighborhood Association, said he has seen more addicts and homeless people loitering in the area near Boston Medical Center, a hub for social services, including shelters, methadone clinics, and programs for the down and out.

“All of these institutions have been there since the 1970s,’’ he said. “That’s when the South End was a war zone. But these poor souls are up against people who paid $1,000 per square foot for their homes.”

Regina Pyle, chairwoman of the board of the Ellis South End Neighborhood Association, said the violence coupled with the increased presence of homeless people is concerning.

“The South End is very diverse,’’ Pyle said. “The area I live in is very upscale, with all sorts of new young professionals.”

Fox said he convened Wednesday’s community meeting of the South End Forum. The meeting drew more than 100 people to the United South End Settlements building on Rutland Street. One attendee carried a container full of discarded syringes. Another said his home was recently broken into and his car window was smashed.

Police promised better patrols, more lighting in the troubled O’Day Playground, more training for at-risk youths.

Authorities said they intend to place more street workers in the Villa Victoria housing development, where Wellington Ruiz, 25, was fatally shot Dec. 9.

About two hours after Wednesday’s meeting ended, a man was shot and wounded near Massachusetts Avenue and Washington Street.

On Thursday evening, Evans and Mayor Martin J. Walsh joined about 70 people in a march for peace. They carried candles and flowers, and stopped at past scenes of violence, including the spot on Aguadilla Street where Ruiz died.

They held a moment of silence near a memorial for Ruiz — which included candles, liquor bottles, and his photo — before Emily Duval, 14, read a prayerful reflection written by the poet Maya Angelou.

“Father, Mother, God,” Duval read. “Thank you for your presence during the hard and mean days, for then we have you to lean upon.”

As the march began, Walsh tried to assure the crowd.

“We need to make sure that we make sure our community’s safe every single night,’’ Walsh said.

Alex Maizonett, a 17-year-old marcher, said he understands the need to assure safety but said the city should also focus on increasing the number of community events.

“Basketball leagues, community cookouts,” he said. “Just to bring everyone together.”

The march came to an end at O’Day Playground, where another moment of silence was held for several homicide victims before Maizonett read a version of St. Francis’ prayer for peace.

“Lord, make us an instrument of your peace,” he read. “Where there is hatred, let us sow love.”

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.