Looking up Longfellow Street: What the Globe missed ‘68 Blocks’ series mined ‘the sorrow and grief of our neighbors’
Feb. 20, 2013
Longfellow Street can be described in several different ways.
It is in Precinct 7 of Ward 15. It is on the side of Meetinghouse Hill facing away from the harbor. It’s below Ronan Park, in St. Peter’s Parish, behind Fields Corner.
Originally, Longfellow Street had a thin, grassy median and most of the houses on this one-block street are still single families. One thing that sets this street off is the diversity of its residents, reflecting Dorchester as a whole.
Looking up the street you could easily spy a retired bus driver from Panama, a retired BFD firefighter from Honduras, a contractor from Viet Nam, along with people from Dominica, Guatemala, Jamaica, the American Virgin Islands, a teacher from Kenya (by way of Balochistan), gay men, Cape Verdeans, African Americans from all over the US, Puerto Ricans, Trinidadians, and even a family of Quakers. Not bad for a street with only about 46 houses.
Longfellow Street is also in an area defined by The Boston Globe (Dorchester’s largest daily) as “68 Blocks.” These 68 Blocks are bisected by Bowdoin Street and chosen by the Globe as the centerpiece of a recent series, because of the crime rate.
And by crime rate they mean violent deaths related to gang activities. To make the series “68 Blocks” unique, the editors of the Globe “embedded” (their word, reminiscent of the military’s practice of taking journalists along in war zones) two of the three young authors in an apartment on Mt. Ida Road which runs along Ronan Park, which can be seen by looking up Longfellow Street.
I met these young journalists— three young women of color, well educated, middle class and, as the editor described at a “Globe Talk” on the series, all going into this assignment “cold, without any knowledge of the area they would write about.” They were sent into our neighborhood expressly to find why there was so much crime. They were sent with a predetermined thesis to find evidence to support the predetermined thesis.
And these strangers to our neighborhood found plenty of evidence of crime. That happens here, it does, in our 68 block, Globe-defined ghetto of violence. They found the Davis family and spent a lengthy portion of the series talking about this family who had lost a son to violence. Turns out I know this family. I know all three of their kids as well as the parents. All three kids were students of mine and I was deeply saddened that Nick was shot two years ago for no apparent reason.
But I was more shocked at the treatment of this horrible incident in the Globe series. Here was the Globe, once again, mining the sorrow and grief of our neighbors. At the “Globe Talk” public forum (held last month at the newspaper) I told them that I felt kicked in the stomach while reading the piece. Who were they writing for? The paper covered the story of Nick’s killing in 2010. Were they stigmatizing us again for the entertainment of their mostly suburban readers? Do they think that the idea of embedding cub reporters on Mt. Ida Road for a couple of months, without identifying what they were doing to any neighbors, was a cute gimmick that might attract the attention of organizations that give out literary prizes every year?
How was it, I asked, that the reporters never looked down Longfellow Street, a block away from their hide out? They could have met the proud parents of kids that I have witnessed growing up over the past 27 years. Almost all of these kids graduated from Boston Latin School, Latin Academy, Boston Arts Academy, Roxbury Latin, and other fine schools. They have now graduated from colleges around the country, some earning advanced degrees and are working professionals.
There is a story that can be found looking up Longfellow Street and other streets in this corner of Dorchester that balances what was written by the Globe’s imbeds but it did not fit into the what those young women were sent to find details about. There are so many stories that do not fit that predetermined thesis. My parting words to the Globies at the “Globe Talk” were, “Please don’t come back.” What I was thinking was, “And good luck with the Pulitzer.”
Spoiler alert: I have not cancelled my subscription to the Sunday Globe.