The Boston Police are withholding the name of an officer involved in last weekend’s fatal shooting of a suspected gang member during a gun battle in the troubled Geneva Avenue section of Dorchester. Police were rightly concerned about the safety of the officer, who was wounded, and his family. The situation is troubling, but not necessarily more so than what area residents face every few weeks: a cycle of violence and retribution. The anxiety increases greatly for residents who are asked to be witnesses in court to gang-related shootings.
Mayor-elect Martin Walsh has indicated that his first major act after being sworn in on Jan. 6 will be to find new ways to address gun violence in the city, or more specifically criminal hot spots in parts of Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury. During the campaign, Walsh posed an important question: “If violence is so limited to three areas, why can’t we do a better job of finding out the root cause and addressing it?’’ Bostonians will be looking for Walsh to answer his own question now that he is about to take office.
When addressing urban crime, politicians often fall back reflexively on the need for gun buyback initiatives, better reentry programs for people leaving prison, redeployment of patrol officers, gun-tracing programs, or other technical fixes. But Walsh’s instinct to dig deeper is the right one. And he would be wise to adopt a campaign idea of his election opponent, John Connolly, who proposed a summit where relatives of those killed in shootings could meet and discuss causes and consequences of urban violence with young men who are trying to break away from gangs.
There is some risk. Emotions could become inflamed at such a meeting. It is possible, too, that those involved in the gang life lack insight to such an extent that little will be learned. But it is also possible that those whose lives are most affected by the scourge of violence will provide a new mayor with new and geographically specific strategies to prevent further bloodshed in high-crime areas such as Geneva Avenue.
Walsh has some skin in this game, so to speak. As a young man growing up in Dorchester, he was grazed by a bullet meant for another person. But even he admits that he has become desensitized after reading so many news accounts of shootings on the streets of Boston. Meeting directly with the victims as well as potential victimizers might be a way to encourage fresh ideas and restore a sense of urgency in Boston’s efforts to reduce violence.