Boston’s homicides up slightly, shootings down
In mid-June, Andrew Flonory was shot and killed in Mattapan. Two months later, Ailton Goncalves was shot in the head while hanging out with friends in Uphams Corner. On a morning last month, Anthony Toombs was killed while sitting in a car in Roxbury.
All three killings were gang-related, police and prosecutors have said.
There have been 46 killings in Boston so far in 2016, six more than in 2015. Though the number of homicides is lower than in many other major cities, gang-related homicides remain a troubling portion of the killings in Boston. Police say they continue to focus resources on the most violent parts of the city, but some crimes, officials say, are nearly impossible to prevent.
“We can’t be everywhere, every day,” said Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans. “A shooting at 4 a.m. behind Heath Street . . . I don’t know how you stop that.”
By the end of 2015, there were 40 homicides in the city, including two that were investigated by the State Police. This year, two of the 46 are being investigated by the State Police. Homicides reached a 15-year low in 2015.
“Much of the violence on the street is gang- and drug-related, and that has not changed from year to year,” said Boston police spokesman Lieutenant Detective Michael McCarthy.
A decade ago, an estimated 1,422, or 1 percent, of Boston’s youth participated in about 65 neighborhood-based gangs and contributed to 60 percent of youth homicides, according to a study released in 2008 by professors and researchers at Harvard University. Gang-related homicides increased sixfold from 1999 to 2006, their research showed.
“It’s the same old story since I was a kid,” said Rufus Faulk, program director for the Boston TenPoint Coalition, which works to end violence in the city. “These neighborhoods have been dealing with violence for 20-plus years.”
The police department received about $16 million in federal and state grants between 2010 and 2015 aimed at reducing and analyzing youth, gang, and gun violence in Boston neighborhoods. The funding supported training, staff, community forums, and other resources.
Evans said the department has been focusing on the city’s hotspots and working closely with community leaders to steer youths away from gang violence and guns.
Overall, crime is down this year, McCarthy said, including a 4 percent reduction in violent crime this year over last. But deaths from shootings are up, he said.
Nonfatal shootings are down this year, with 192 as of Wednesday compared with 204 for the same period last year. A 2-year-old girl and a 9-year-old girl were among the city’s youngest victims of gun violence this year — with both of them surviving harrowing encounters.
A man riding a motor scooter shot the 2-year-old girl in her hand and leg while she sat in a car seat Oct. 15. The man was allegedly aiming for her father, who was standing outside the vehicle on a Roxbury street.
A week before that, a 9-year-old girl was shot as she played outside during a birthday party in the Alice Taylor Public Housing Development at 1 a.m., authorities said.
Evans said there are too many guns on the street and the department has been working to seize firearms that could be used to commit a violent crime.
So far this year, he said, officers have confiscated 767 firearms, including 23 guns collected through a buyback program.
But, there are “probably another 1,000 that replaced them,” Evans said.
Community leaders who work with at-risk youth say poverty and a lack of opportunities are among the root causes of violence in the city’s neighborhoods.
“Unfortunately for too many of our young men, rites of passage have been gang involvement,” said Faulk, of the TenPoint Coalition. “If you don’t see a pathway out of despair, it’s easy to get swept up into it.”
Some residents living in high crime areas have experienced multiple traumatic events — witnessing a shooting, or, even worse, having a friend or loved one who is a victim.
Boston youth worker Monica Cannon pointed to Daquon Brown , 23, who was fatally shot earlier this month, as someone who had had several encounters with street violence over the years. Brown’s older brother, David Jones , 17, was murdered in 2007, and Brown appears to have struggled to cope in the years since.
“It could have been prevented,” Cannon said of Brown’s death. “We’re totally ignoring a group of young people who are hurt.”
Brown, the city’s 41st homicide victim of 2016, was arrested for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in 2009, two years after his brother was killed while walking home from Madison Park Technical Vocational High School. Jones was the city’s 61st homicide victim in 2007, a year in which 66 people were killed.
The 2009 charges against Brown were dismissed, but court records show he continued to have run-ins with police.
Brown was one of three people arrested over the summer during a drug bust in Dorchester that netted more than 100 grams of crack cocaine, a pound of marijuana, three handguns, and $1,000 in cash, according to court documents.
Police also found a memorial pin and funeral booklet for deceased gang members on a mirror in his bedroom. He was charged with drug trafficking and illegal possession of a firearm. Several weeks later, he was released on bail.
In October, Brown was charged with assault with intent to murder for his role in a March gunfight that left Allex Bryant , 28, dead. Brown allegedly shot at two men later accused of killing Bryant.
On Dec. 3, Brown was shot and then crashed his car into a fence in Mattapan.
Cannon and Faulk say communities need more access to trauma services for witnesses, victims, and perpetrators of violence, and that providers need to be better equipped to help young people who need housing, education, and employment.
“We tend to respond to the victim and the witness, but not the perpetrator,” Cannon said.
A police spokesman reported a 63 percent clearance rate for homicides as of last week, compared with a 61 percent clearance rate for homicides in 2015. The district attorney’s office said 85 percent of murder indictments resulted in convictions this year, up slightly from last year.
However, Boston and State Police are still trying to solve the deaths of two young men killed in East Boston this month.
Jake Wark, spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney, said the office frequently uses witness protection funds to ensure the safety of those who provide information about a crime.
Police and prosecutors say they need the public’s help when investigating these homicides, but that they don’t always get it — another reason homicides are among the most difficult crimes to solve.
“They leave so little evidence: no fingerprints, no DNA, no hairs or fibers, none of the physical clues that can help solve a crime,” Wark said. “Perpetrators often become victims, which is why it’s so critically important that witnesses share information with investigators before the cycle of retaliation begins.”
Rahshjeem Benson, 34, who has served time twice for selling drugs and was recently shot in both hands when a man tried to rob him as he sat in his car, said he would never help authorities solve a violent crime, not even when he was a victim.
He said the code of the streets prevents those involved in violence from turning to the police to solve disputes, and many people take matters into their own hands.
“I’m not helping them do their job,” he said in an interview. “I stay in my lane.”