City councilor clashes with ministers group
City Councilor Andrea Campbell, a well-liked newcomer in City Hall, has become embroiled in a tense exchange with members of Boston’s African-American clergy who took issue with her for not backing recent efforts to call a hearing on violence.
The newly formed Boston Black Ministers United For Change lambasted Campbell, who heads the council’s public safety committee, and other councilors for not supporting a proposal to hold a hearing on violence called for last week by Councilor Tito Jackson.
In a letter to the council Friday, the Rev. Bruce Wall accused Campbell and some of her colleagues of “making a choice to ignore” experiences of violence in the neighborhoods.
“From your lack of involvement and lack of support for this order [to hold a hearing], it appears to us that you are thumbing your nose at Boston’s black community,’’ the group wrote in the letter signed by Wall that was obtained by the Globe.
In a strongly worded defense of her record, Campbell responded Saturday by saying she was “disturbed and offended” by the clergy members’ assertions.
“I am further perturbed by the thinly veiled threats, which can only be seen as an attempt to intimidate,’’ she wrote in a response to the clergy members’ letter, which was obtained by the Globe. “I do not believe this type of approach is in the best interests of my constituents.”
Campbell declined to comment further when reached by text, but she posted a note on Facebook similar to her letter to the clergy that expressed anger over the struggle to end violence and her hope to work on “real solutions together.”
The clash between Campbell, who is African-American, and members of the city’s black clergy reflect lingering tensions over her ascendancy to the council after defeating former councilor Charles Yancey, who represented District 4, which now includes slices of Mattapan, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, and Roslindale, for more than three decades.
Some in the black community had criticized Campbell for being a carpetbagger who had recently moved to Mattapan and for the long list of donors outside the district who supported her campaign. Campbell has said Mattapan has always been home.
Campbell was also at odds with some black residents over her support for a ballot initiative that would have increased the number of charter schools, a measure that Jackson campaigned heavily to block.
The new ministerial group, announced last week, was formed to hold discussions on how to elect the city’s next mayor in an attempt to get blacks more involved in the political process. One of its members, Ron Bell, is related to Jackson and is a former campaign manager of the councilor’s. There is wide speculation that Jackson might be a potential challenger to Mayor Martin J. Walsh, although the councilor has not made any announcements about his intentions. Councilors are also gearing up for reelection campaigns next year.
The clergy members’ letter came in response to statements Jackson made on the council floor last week suggesting there had been a rise in the number of homicides and sexual assaults this year and urging that a hearing be held with police officials to tackle solutions. Jackson represents Roxbury, which has been plagued by violence this year.
After Jackson’s claims, the Boston Police Department released a document showing that violent crimes — including homicides, rapes, and aggravated assaults — had declined by 13 percent since 2014.
The department said rape and attempted rape cases increased 3 percent — with seven total incidents — over last year. But that figure follows a 22 percent reduction in such crimes last year, the document said.
The department also said homicides are up slightly this year over last, but the increase comes after Boston recorded 38 homicides in 2015 — a 10-year low — compared with 41 so far in 2016. The city is well below the 10-year average of 57, the police said.
In their letter, the clergy members said it came to their attention that Campbell and six other councilors did not sign on to the hearing order “to discuss the well-documented issue of violence that is happening every day on the streets of many Boston neighborhoods.”
“Why would you think that you could snub Boston’s black community with no consequences? Making a choice to ignore the . . . daily experiences of violence that our brothers and sisters observe and experience in our neighborhoods is still making a choice,” the ministers wrote. “Refusing to support this hearing order tells us that you are not concerned about violence in the specific neighborhoods that are most affected.”
In the response she flagged for the Globe, Campbell said she cares deeply about issues that affect the community and said she has demonstrated that since taking office 11 months ago.
As chairwoman of the Committee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice, she helped to ensure the launching of a police body-camera pilot initiative this year, urged Mayor Martin J. Walsh to develop a citywide trauma response to homicides in the neighborhoods, and assembled a community cabinet with representatives from community organizations, street workers, youth, and clergy.
The councilor said she also met with public safety advocates to prepare for a hearing next month to discuss violence reduction strategies. She said the group chose January because all hearing orders would need to be refiled in 2017.
Campbell said she has faith and trust in the black community to determine who is working on their behalf.
“I am more than willing to continue this discussion in a positive manner should you, your organization and Councilor Jackson care to join me,’’ she wrote.