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With an increase in violence during the pandemic, pastors and residents call for more services in Boston neighborhoods

Boston Police Commissioner Willie Gross spoke with local clergy and community members about the escalating violence in the black community during the coronavirus pandemic in front of Billy’s Texas BBQ on Wednesday.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

A coalition of ministers, residents and Boston Police Commissioner William G. Gross Wednesday issued an urgent call for increased attention to the root causes of gun violence in city neighborhoods following an increase in shootings during the coronavrius pandemic.

Coalition members repeatedly expressed their support for Governor Charlie Baker, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Boston police, and Transit Police during a meeting with reporters outside a Dorchester barbecue restaurant where multiple shots were fired last December that also included prayers for peace in the city and good health during the pandemic.

Reverend Eugene F. Rivers 3rd, a long-time community activist from the Ella J. Baker House and the Asuza Christian Community, called on the political leaders to engage in a dialogue with the community in order to craft an effective response to current violence and to prepare for resumption of city life, possibly this summer.


“It is essential that the city and the state begin to listen to the communities,” Rivers said. “Black people are not just the problem. We can also function as solutions.”

Rivers said violence prevention programs have historically focused attention on 'tweens, teenagers and young men and women. Now, however, attention should be directed at children when they are five-years-old to help steer them in the right direction.

“We are going to have the challenges this summer,’’ Rivers said. “The governor and the mayor need to sit down with the people and hear their ideas...It’s a dialogue, a listening in both directions.”

Gross shared Rivers’s concern about the need to boost financial support of anti-violence programs in Boston, but also said — as did others — that the pandemic has served to intensify chronic economic and social issues linked to historic inequities.

“This pandemic has definitely affected neighborhoods that were already suffering from social and economic strife," Gross said, adding that the Walsh administration has worked to ensure Boston Public School students and others in need get the help they need. “For God’s sake everything in this country began here. We have for centuries shown people how this was done. We can do it again…Now we are in a pandemic. We should be working together.”


Gross once again attacked the state’s judiciary, which has been ordering the release of pre-trial detainees and sentenced inmates whose health could be at risk through exposure to COVID-19 behind bars. Gross said the safety of the community should be the paramount concern.

According to state courts officials, 824 pretrial detainees and sentenced inmates have been released from state and county prisons and jails since April 5 — including 63 in Suffolk County.

Tara Register, a parent and member of the Youth Violence Reduction Taskforce, also spoke. The task force, which is associated with the Baker house, includes members of law enforcement, city agencies, ministers and social activists.

Register said there is a portion of the community that do not read the newspaper, do not watch the television news, and do not read social media. But they have issues around parenting, economic security, mental health needs, child care and guidance for their teenage children that must be addressed.

"The city is doing a lot of great work, but we are doing only surface work,’’ she said. “We really need to dig deeper and we really need to get to the root of the issues.”


According to police, recent disturbing incidents of violence include a triple shooting at 52 Kensington Park in Roxbury that left one man dead this weekend, the April 18 wounding of a 10-year-old girl struck by a stray bullet inside her home on Nazing Street in Roxbury, , and the April 15 fatal shooting of 17-year-old Alissa King on Topliff Street in Dorchester. A suspect has been arrested for King’s murder.

, The Kensington Park homicide was the 13th this year, compared with 12 last year at the time. Through April 28, police recorded 39 nonfatal shootings, compared with 34 nonfatal shootings during the same time period last year, according to Boston police.

John R. Ellement can be reached at Follow him @JREbosglobe.