Minister Works to Revive 'Boston Miracle'
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
And I'm Linda Wertheimer.
Community leaders in Boston are worried about a deadly re-emergence of youth violence. The fear comes after the city dramatically reduced the number of gang-related homicides in the 1990s, earning a national reputation for the so-called "Boston Miracle." The new challenge has been highlighted recently by the efforts of one minister to take back a troubled neighborhood. NPR's Anthony Brooks reports.
(Soundbite of footsteps)
ANTHONY BROOKS reporting:
Reverend Bruce Wall climbs the stairs to a small, cramped, hot apartment in the heart of one of Boston's most violent neighborhoods in Dorchester. Wall moved in here temporarily. He calls it an occupation to take back a neighborhood dubbed the Hell Zone from the gangs. Every night last week, he walked the streets to confront the drug dealers, the prostitutes and the crowds of kids that linger outside after dark. There've been a rash of shootings and stabbings here, including a murder just last month, and, according to Wall, a feeling that the so-called "Boston Miracle" is in trouble.
Reverend BRUCE WALL (Boston Minister): We're in need of another miracle. It's a different day, it's a different era. I've been told that the kids here are not like the kids I dealt with years ago. They do not respect anybody. And I've been warned, you know, `They will shoot you, Pastor.' But I'm not going to let that stop me.
BROOKS: During the day, Lyndhurst Street is a quiet, working and middle-class neighborhood with handsome Victorian and Greek Revival houses. Wall has been urging residents to set up a neighborhood crime watch. While some welcome his anti-crime crusade, others are reluctant to join.
Ms. TINA GREEN(ph) (Nursing Assistant): You don't want to get involved. You don't want to get caught up. You don't want people seeing your face or anything like that.
BROOKS: Tina Green is a nursing assistant who lives right next door to an apartment building where she says everybody knows drugs are sold.
Ms. GREEN: It's very scary living here, not knowing if you're going to come outside and get shot. You know, I have a 12-year-old child. I won't even send him to the corner store.
BROOKS: So far this year, there have been 41 murders in Boston, three more than at the same time last year. It's a troubling number in a city where overall crime is actually down. Not long ago, Boston offered a model of how to deal with gang-related violence that resulted in a 60-percent drop in youth homicides. Part of the strategy included close cooperation between the police, community groups and the clergy which some say has waned. The city's police commissioner, Kathleen O'Toole, says those partnerships still exist, though maybe they lack the energy of the past.
Commissioner KATHLEEN O'TOOLE (Boston Police): No question, I think things became a little complacent when things were so successful in the late '90s. But we're not going to rest on our laurels, and we have certain neighborhoods that remain troubled, this being one of them.
BROOKS: O'Toole says like many cities, Boston is coping with a huge 20- to 30-percent increase in its juvenile population.
Commr. O'TOOLE: And then we also have a significant number of offenders who have now returned to the community. And unless that re-entry process is effective, it will be a revolving door and we'll face the same challenges we did a decade ago.
Mr. DAVID KENNEDY (John Jay College of Criminal Justice): The sad fact is that Boston is no longer practicing what Boston taught the world how to do.
BROOKS: That's David Kennedy, now with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Back in the '90s, he was among a group of Harvard researchers who helped design Boston's successful response to youth violence. Kennedy says the key piece was Operation Cease Fire, in which the cops answered the worst violence by going after entire gangs, cracking down on drug offenses, probation violations, unpaid child support, sending a zero-tolerance message.
Mr. KENNEDY: And when the group understands that, the group polices itself. And that simple but crucial element has pretty much been lost in Boston.
BROOKS: Others say there's a new, younger generation of cops on the street that didn't learn the lessons of the 1990s. But Boston Mayor Tom Menino rejects that argument and blames instead a lack of resources. He points out that like many cities, Boston has lost tens of millions of dollars in federal aid, which means fewer cops on the street when more are needed.
Mayor TOM MENINO (Boston): No question at all. Under the Clinton administration, we were able to put 700 police officers on the streets of our city. Under this administration, we put zero. So what's happened, it's all left the city. It's not just Boston. It's happening to Baltimore, in Trenton, you know, Cleveland, all those cities that are left to run it themselves.
BROOKS: But on this day, Boston police were out in force, eager to show Reverend Wall that they're behind his effort to take back one neighborhood. Just a couple of blocks away from where he'd been staying on Lyndhurst Street, police raided an apartment house and arrested three men as Wall watched. Detective Al Torrestri(ph) showed him a gun that was seized in the bust.
Detective AL TORRESTRI (Boston Police): We've got a sawed-off shotgun, we've got a quantity of marijuana or a quantity of some cocaine. Seems that a lot of the stuff moved down here due to your presence on Lyndhurst Street.
Rev. WALL: Congratulations.
Det. TORRESTRI: Thank you, sir.
Rev. WALL: That's good. I'll be honest, I hate to see brothers be put back in the wagon and go away, but we can't have the guns on the street. So...
Det. TORRESTRI: I wholeheartedly agree with you, sir.
Rev. WALL: Yeah. Yeah.
BROOKS: Some in the neighborhood applauded the bust, but others worry that after Reverend Wall leaves, so will the cops, the attention, and the peace. Anthony Brooks, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.