Boston police Commissioner William Gross held his hat to his chest Friday night, standing on a Dorchester street corner where a 17-year-old girl was shot to death in April. He thought of her family, how they wept the day of the killing. He wanted them to know he thought of her still.
Next to Gross stood Mayor Martin J. Walsh, his hands clasped. And behind him, police officers, clergy, and community officials, marking the city’s first peace walk of the year.
“As we walk, as we talk, we share with one another,” intoned the Reverend Arthur Gerald, “we are all of the same blood.”
Most years, the police and city hold peace walks through the summer, gatherings in which officers and officials mix with community members and share stories, concerns, and good will. But this year, the pandemic shut the city down before they could start. Friday night’s walk was the first since the lockdown hit, and the first since the country was gripped by national reckoning over law enforcement abuses. Amid the many challenges of 2020, Boston has also seen a rise in shootings and killings.
It’s an important time for the community to see the police out on the street in a positive way, Gross said Friday. He wants residents to know that officers don’t view crime — and its victims — as a set of statistics. And these walks are an important step.
“It lets people see we’re fighting for them,” he said.
As Gross and Walsh and the rest ambled up and down the neighborhood streets, drivers and passing cars hollered hellos, men in barbershops waved, and children stopped playing in their yards to watch. “What’s up, brothers?” Gross shouted to four young men standing on a corner.
Gross and Walsh, with masks on, quietly chatted with two women who had lost a loved one to violence.
As the group of about 40 people walked up Hendry Street, once considered one of the toughest streets in the city, Henrique Fernandes hustled over.
“I’ve been waiting for you!” the middle-aged man told the mayor. Fernandes launched into a laundry list of repairs the street needed: a fix to the fire hydrant, better parking enforcement, a crosswalk. Walsh promised to send someone by next week.
When Gross began as a police officer in the 1980s, he worked in this neighborhood. It was dangerous then to walk down Hendry Street. Now, he and the mayor and a resident were talking about slight cosmetic improvements.
“It’s a better neighborhood,” Fernandes said. “Better city too.”