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Marathon bombing response spurs questions

Some in black community urge similar fight against homicide

Boston Police investigators arrived at the scene of a triple shooting in Dorchester in late April.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff/Globe Staff

A few days after a pair of bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon and captured the world’s attention, Tony Smith noticed several lit candles outside a yard in his Dorchester neighborhood and thought someone had placed them there in tribute to the victims.

But when he inquired about the candles, a neighbor repeated a line that is all too familiar in troubled pockets of the city.

“Someone was just shot there,’’ Smith recounted recently.

Since the Marathon attack on April 15, gunfire has not ceased in Boston’s urban community, where residents are at once sympathetic to the victims but conflicted about law enforcement’s sweeping response and the groundswell of support for the suffering.


Minority residents were deeply affected by the bombings. They, too, were in the race, at the finish line, and witnessed the maiming of victims. Some sought counseling to cope with the horror they saw. Some of their children attended school with the young Dorchester victim Martin Richard. And others returned to their churches and community centers to hold vigils and raise funds for those left to mend the wounds of terror.

But as they come to terms with the massive scale of a single attack that has afflicted so many, minority residents are wondering why they have not seen a surge of response in their own crime-stricken communities, where many young men have been felled by bloodshed.

“Without question in communities of color, our hearts go out to the families of those impacted by the bombing of the Boston Marathon, particularly the [Richard] family,’’ said Michael Curry, president of the local branch of the NAACP. “Our message as a branch is how can we be supportive to these families, while also raising awareness around the impact of violence in communities of color that also demands that level of response?”


Since the bombings, six people have been shot and killed, and at least 23 people have been shot in Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury, police said.

Residents in low-income minority communities say they are constantly besieged by gunfire, noting the triple homicides on Harlem Street in Dorchester last year, the quadruple killings on Woolson Street in Mattapan in 2010 that left a 2-year-old dead, and the constant news of slain black men.

Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said he understands that residents devastated by the loss of their sons and brothers and loved ones to violence are yearning for collective support like that now engulfing bombing victims. He pointed to the unusual circumstances of the most recent events, in which radicalized brothers struck a treasured and popular event as the world watched.

“There’s been an outpouring of sympathy from across the world that doesn’t attach to what happens day in and day out,’’ said Davis. “And I think that’s a tragedy. I think that each life is precious. And each life should receive the same type of attention.”

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, in a speech last week, seemed to hear echoes of the Marathon bombings on city streets miles away from the Back Bay. “We must heed young Martin Richard’s call: ‘No more hurting people,’ ” the mayor said, invoking the memory of the youngest of the three Marathon spectators who died in the blasts. “We have to put an end to violence in our neighborhoods and the senseless scourge of guns.”


In spite of the horrific events and demands on manpower, Davis said the department maintained a sizable presence in the city’s neighborhoods since the bombings. He said that when homicides occur, victims’ advocates and trauma counselors are available to assist the grieving. The city also offers funds to cover funeral expenses for some who cannot afford it.

Still, residents in the neighborhoods feel torn watching on the sidelines as charities established for bombing victims raise millions, access to counseling is readily available, and health insurers vow to waive out-of-pocket costs to members hurt in the blasts.

These residents said they do not mean to seem callous or insensitive. They care about the well-being of all victims, but also worry about the plight of families of homicide victims who have no money to bury their dead.

“I want these resources to be dedicated to the [Marathon] victims. I want them to have it,’’ said Lisa Fliegel, a therapist who works with victims of urban violence. “But we need it for every victim. An act of terror is an act of terror. Homicide is an act of terror.”

Said one community resident who asked not to be named: “You just can’t compare it. A homicide in Boston doesn’t affect the world. The bombings did. But people here wonder, how can we get the same type of help?”

The issue of the minority community’s response to the bombings has been swirling on social media, radio shows, and national television. The issue came up in again recently during a panel discussion at Emerson College and a public safety meeting at Ella J. Baker House in Dorchester.


At the Baker House meeting, the Rev. Vernard Coulter inquired about having a police lock-down in crime-ridden areas, so police would be able focus on gang members causing trouble. But the idea was quickly rejected by others at the meeting.

Coulter said black clergy members, who have buried too many, are closely watching the response to the marathon tragedy.

“We are observing this very carefully,” he said. “We need that kind of effort here.”

Chelsea Conaboy of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.