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Homicides in Boston have climbed 39 percent so far this year

Boston Police Commissioner William Gross.
Boston Police Commissioner William Gross.Matt Stone

With the murders of two men this weekend, the number of homicides in Boston has risen by 39 percent from this time last year, when the city recorded its fewest homicides since 2010.

Two men were shot and killed within minutes of each other in Dorchester on Sunday, police said. One was shot on Erie Street just before 2 a.m., and the second was shot near Sumner and Conrad streets around 2:08 a.m. He made his way to a Boston hospital, where he died of his injuries.

The names of the victims have not been released. No arrests have been made, and police said both homicides are under investigation.

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There have been now been 32 homicides in Boston this year compared with 23 at this time last year. In 2019 overall, there were 37 homicides. In 2018, there were 56 murders, a rate similar to this year’s.

In a statement, Boston Police spokesman Sgt. Detective John Boyle said “it should be noted, however, that this increase comes following a dramatic 20-year low for the overall number of homicides in 2019.”

Detectives “continue to investigate each of these incidents and urge anyone with any information, no matter how small, to contact (617) 343-4470,” he said.

Some observers attributed the increase in murders to the upheaval and economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think there is a lot of pent-up frustration and anger,‘' said Rev. Miniard Culpepper of Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Dorchester. “I also think that with COVID-19, resources and jobs have really dried up. One of the things we have always said is: ‘The best way to stop a bullet is with a job.’”

“You don’t have the summer programs that you normally have and the resources you normally have” for at-risk children, teenagers, and their families, he added.

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Last year, Culpepper ran the Trotter Park Peace Program that provided meals three times a week for teenagers and their families, hired some 50 young adults as mentors and counselors, held a basketball league with paid referees, and provided arts programming for teens. But the pandemic put a stop to it this summer, he said.

“When you look at last summer we had all kinds of programs for young folks,” he said. “They are not available this summer.”

In recent weeks, Boston Police Commissioner William G. Gross has chided the court system for ordering the release of prisoners and setting no or low bail for people charged with violent crimes due to the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks among inmates.

Culpepper made the point that sentenced inmates appear to be getting released without going through transitional programs that help them find housing, medical care, and social support.

“I think you get a much different result than when you have a planned release, when somebody is emotionally prepared to be released, when they have plans,” he said.

City Councilor Andrea Campbell said the rise in homicides reflects the immediate social turmoil created by the pandemic as well as the city’s long-term failure to create equal economic opportunity, high-quality housing, and job growth, among other concerns.

“With COVID-19 and unemployment skyrocketing and the collective trauma we are feeling from police-involved murders, including George Floyd — there is a lot of pain and suffering and trauma,” she said. “Sadly, there are people that respond to trauma with violence.”

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Campbell, whose district includes parts of Dorchester and Mattapan, where many of the homicides have occurred this year, said she is acutely aware of the need for government to respond to the violence.

She called for the city to increase funding for programs that seek to help at-risk youth, improve the quality of housing stock, and develop permanent ways to connect residents with high-quality employment.

“We know we can’t police our way out of this issue,‘' she said. “We need police to respond to immediate incidents of violence. But these inequities have existed for a really long time and this is an opportunity to invest in these communities more deeply.”



John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.