A semiautomatic handgun concealed under his winter clothes, Josiah Zachery made his way to Jamaica Plain one snowy morning in 2015, prosecutors say. He spent an hour on the bus, then took the Orange Line from Jackson Square to Forest Hills, almost as if he were making a long, cold commute to work.
But Zachery wasn’t going to work. That morning, Zachery had allegedly received a text message from Donte Henley, a fellow member of Boston’s Franklin Hill gang. Henley had discovered that he and someone affiliated with a rival gang were working on the same snow shoveling crew for Roca, a nonprofit that tries to change the lives of at-risk young people.
He texted Zachery for help. When Zachery found the crew, he allegedly walked up to the man Henley had described, drew the large-caliber handgun, and shot 21-year-old Kenny Lamour in the head. Lamour, who was trying to turn his life around, died in the snowy street.
Almost three years later, Henley and Zachery are both on trial for Lamour’s murder — a crime that represents a type of gun violence that is even harder to solve than the mass shootings that are all too prevalent.
Now, you may have heard that nobody really cares about the kind of violence that killed Kenny Lamour. At least that’s the talking point that emerges from some conservative quarters pretty often these days.
Raise the issue of gun control in the wake of another mass shooting, or suggest criminal justice reform after a police officer shoots another black man, and someone will invariably ride in on his tired stalking horse, asking you why you’re not talking about “black on black crime” or “murders in Chicago.” Their point? That discussing something like an assault weapons ban means you’re ignoring all the young men like Lamour who are gunned down every day with handguns.
It’s a disingenuous argument, of course, intended only to derail the national conversations about gun control or other reforms. But listen to these sad, angry voices long enough, and you might even begin to believe that decent, empathetic people can’t care about more than one thing at once: like, say, mass shootings and gang violence.
So it’s worth pointing out that on every level, that’s nonsense. Searching for a solution is the only humane response to massive, senseless death at a concert in Las Vegas or a church in Texas. But doing so doesn’t preclude anyone from also wondering what could’ve saved Kenny Lamour.
In fact, the cumulative toll of the kind of gang violence that killed Lamour is far greater than from mass shootings. What makes it harder to talk about isn’t a lack of concern — it’s that this violence is even more confounding and intractable, rooted in poverty and centuries of discrimination.
It’s fairly easy to design regulations that would make large-scale mass shootings less common. A federal ban on semiautomatic, military-style rifles and large-capacity magazines wouldn’t stop every one, but it would prevent at least some — and the country not long ago had just such a ban, albeit one with .50 caliber loopholes in it.
In the wake of the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Democrats in Congress introduced just such a bill. It won’t go anywhere, of course — which is frustrating to the point of being intolerable — but we fundamentally understand the political factors involved.
But violence in our streets? It’s harder to see a way forward. Lamour’s death is particularly galling in this regard, because it came as he was actively participating in one of the potential solutions.
This week, during the trial of the two men accused of murdering Lamour, a prosecutor described a Roca crew chief getting assurances from Henley that he could work alongside Lamour without incident.
But within five minutes, Henley was allegedly texting Zachery, plotting Lamour’s death.
A couple of hours later, Lamour was standing behind the Roca van on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, smoking a cigarette, when a bullet entered his head above his right ear, ripped through his brain, and lodged inside his left cheek.
In Massachusetts and many other states, handguns like the large-caliber weapon Zachery allegedly used to end Lamour’s life are already subject to far greater restrictions than rifles. The weapons used in street crimes are typically already being carried illegally. And keeping them out of the wrong hands has proven incredibly difficult.
So we rely on public programs and nonprofit organizations like Roca, which helps over 700 young men, ages 17 to 24 all over Massachusetts. Most of them have been arrested before, many have been incarcerated or involved in gangs and dropped out of high school. Roca workers knock on doors again and again, offering work and help and the kind of trusting relationship that can begin to convince someone to follow a different path.
In that sense, Lamour’s life, if not his death, is evidence that people do indeed care deeply. All over the country, smart and dedicated people are searching for solutions.
And they’re grieving the loss of people like Kenny Lamour.
This week, in a Suffolk Superior courtroom on the eighth floor, where Zachery and Henley are being tried for murder, Carine Lamour endured the constant recounting of the moment her son died.
Outside the courtroom, she said she was praying not just for her family but for the families of the young men who allegedly killed her son — and for the men themselves.
“I will pray for all of us — even the one killing him,” Lamour said, because though she is suffering, she knows they are, too.
After she learned of her son’s death on that frigid day in February, she went to find the spot where he’d fallen.
“I walked to the street and scratched on the ground,” she said, “looking for the blood of my son.”
In the snow, she never found it.Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.