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Boston police are trying a new weapon in their war on gangs. They're hoping a little old-fashioned public humiliation might help curb inner city violence.
But as NPR's Tovia Smith reports, many fear the new tactic will backfire.
TOVIA SMITH: Police say it was a cold-blooded murder a few weeks ago that left them grasping for new ideas. A 14-year-old boy playing outside was allegedly jumped by two gang members and shot dead. Two suspects were quickly charged with murder, but a clearly frustrated Police Commissioner Ed Davis took it a step further, distributing fliers around town with pictures of 10 others believed to be in the same gang as the alleged killers.
Mr. ED DAVIS (Boston Police Commissioner): Anybody who is associated with the gang that is responsible for the execution of a 14-year-old boy should be shamed, and that's what we're hoping for.
SMITH: Davis wants the alleged gang members ostracized.
Mr. E. DAVIS: They have relatives. They have friends. They have people that they have to interact with at Thanksgiving. They have to go home. And when they go home, their family should be saying, this is wrong.
SMITH: Some, however, find the very notion absurd. Gang members clearly play by their own very different rules of right and wrong. Even Nathaniel Davis, the father of the murdered 14-year-old, says it's silly to think that posting gang members' pictures will somehow make them suddenly grow a conscience.
Mr. NATHANIEL DAVIS: How would it shame them? These guys are doing stuff out in the middle of daylight, so what makes them think that if people see a picture that it's going to stop them? You know what I mean?
Reverend EUGENE RIVERS: Exactly. See, this is the problem. I asked some hoodlums, what do you think about this, and they laughed. You know, I mean the kids go, whatever.
SMITH: Reverend Eugene Rivers has been working on violence prevention in Boston for decades. He says those kids who make the police commissioner's list of the top 10 baddest gang members are just as likely to see it as a badge of honor.
Rev. RIVERS: You know, it was an understandable Hail Mary thrown by a commissioner who was frustrated. A piece of paper is not going to change anybody. It's desperate.
Bishop FILIPE TEIXEIRA (Founder, Order of Saint Joseph Cupertino): Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.
SMITH: Youth worker and Bishop Filipe Teixeira says the fliers will make those pictured on them into targets, putting them and others at even greater risk.
Bishop TEIXEIRA: You don't shame a brother. We - as a black man, you don't shame me. By shaming me, you're making me more angry, more upset and more violent.
Unidentified Man: That's right. That's right.
SMITH: Teixeira says the fliers also raise questions of due process. They look like wanted posters - no names but mug shots and instructions to call police with any information about the young men who are, quote, "known to associate with criminals and gang members."
But none of the 10 face arrest warrants.
Carol Rose is head of the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union.
Ms. CAROL ROSE (Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts): Anytime you have a guilt by association as a kind of smear campaign, especially when done by a police department, which has the power of the state behind it, it should raise alarm bells as a matter of civil liberties and fairness.
SMITH: Rose concedes the posters would probably pass legal muster. But defense attorney Teri Travayiakis, who says he's represented two of those pictured in the flier, believes that police are clearly overstepping the boundaries of fair.
Mr. LEFTERIS TRAVAYIAKIS (Defense Attorney): If you think these kids are bad kids, then arrest them. Put your money where your mouth is. And if you can't do that, I think it's shameful by the Boston Police Department to put this kid's picture all over the Internet, all through the state of Boston, and then say this guy's a bad kid. I mean, what are the police trying to do here?
SMITH: It's exactly the question Nathaniel Davis was asking. Shortly after his son was killed, he actually saw one of the young men pictured on the flier and called police to tell them. But Davis says police basically said there was nothing they could do.
Mr. N. DAVIS: To show their faces, and they're still walking around here, come on now, what's the sense of putting them out there if they just want to recognize them and all? When are they gonna take them off the streets?
SMITH: Police say they're hoping the posters will eventually prompt someone to call in with some real evidence of criminal activity. Trouble is, in a city where residents are notoriously reluctant to snitch, many say posting the faces of young men who are not charged with any crime will not help police build more trust.
Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.
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