As the trial of reputed mobster Whitey Bulger unfolds in federal court, Boston is mesmerized by stories of lurid gangland slayings that occurred decades ago.
But the gang violence that’s happening right now in Boston elicits mostly shrugs. Shootings in Boston’s poor neighborhoods are no match for the drama of Bulger’s racketeering trial, with its media-savvy henchmen-turned-informants who will testify about their former partner’s alleged involvement with 19 murders.
Even political leaders and top law enforcement officials sound resigned to what is now viewed as a typical lead-in to summer in the inner city — a surge in violence.
As of June 11, there were 104 shootings in Boston, 17 of them fatal. Over the same period last year, there were 81 shootings, 12 of them fatal. On Monday, a young woman and her boyfriend were shot when they pulled their car up to a relative’s home in Dorchester. Their 5-month old baby, buckled in a back safety seat, was unharmed. It was the seventh shooting in three days in Boston.
Asked about the uptick in violence, Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis told the Globe police are “making sure that we stop as many shootings as possible, but this is what happens in cities as we get into the summer months.”
Sounding even more resigned during an appearance on WGBH radio, Governor Deval Patrick said, “There’s so much of it, we’re almost numb to it. It doesn’t generate the emergency response, I think, that other crimes do.”
Added Patrick: “I think I’ve done what I can. It’s not any one political leader’s responsibility. In fact, it’s not even up to political leaders entirely, or mainly. There’s a whole business about rebuilding community and rebuilding family that belong to all of us.”
That’s a remarkable turning point in the discussion of urban violence — or a remarkable hand-washing, take your pick. How does the governor make it “belong to all of us” if he believes he has done what he can?
The Bulger-era gang wars between Irish and Italian mobsters are over. But gang warfare still leaves bullet-riddled cars and pools of blood on certain Boston streets. No one will fight for the movie rights to tell the story of these perpetrators and the victims will be mourned only by their loved ones.
Today’s gang warfare is easy to ignore. It doesn’t have the seductive overlay of one brother committed to a life of crime, protected by another brother who rose to a position of great political power. Law enforcement is not corrupt; it’s just ineffective.
The killing doesn’t happen in the part of town where parking spaces sell for half a million dollars, or along the now-bustling waterfront. No, it happens in the city’s downtrodden neighborhoods, where mostly nonwhite residents live. It’s no coincidence that the geographic area is also home to a troubled vocational school that’s being hitched to a troubled community college, in hopes of reviving both.
Troubled schools turn out troubled kids. Some of those troubled kids grow up to commit serious crimes. Just like Bulger and his gangster pals, they are fighting over turf, drugs, money, and women. The smallest slight can generate a deadly fusillade — just like the slights described by Bulger accuser John Martarano. Owing money to the wrong people is a rationale for a revenge killing; if an innocent person is caught in the crossfire, it’s the cost of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In the Bulger era, women like Debra Davis and Deborah Hussey were not partners in crime, but they were allegedly killed because they knew too much. Today, as longtime community activist the Rev. Eugene Rivers wrote in the Boston Herald, young women are used as “set-up girls” in gang warfare. Sometimes, they are victims of violence. It’s another parallel between old gangsters and new.
The best political intentions have failed to stop young black men from turning on each other. But is that a pass for everyone to look the other way? If it is, the outcome is no different from what happened when corrupt police and FBI agents looked the other way as Bulger allegedly committed his vicious crimes — and its implications are broader. It’s the corruption of society’s soul.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.