Through the leaves on the trees at the intersection of Harold and Holworthy, you can glimpse the John Hancock tower. A symbol of downtown Boston’s economic vitality, it often seems farther than three miles away for the residents of this corner of Roxbury.
On one side of the street, an elderly man is shoveling up shattered glass next to his car, the result of another car taking the turn too quickly and flipping on its side. Two vacant grassy lots are situated on the other side of the intersection. And around the corner there is a candle-and-whiskey-bottle memorial for Perris Haynes, a 29-year-old father who was shot and killed on a Saturday morning in July.
Teah Norfleet, 25, who grew up with Perris, stood a few feet away. He was a “brother from another mother,” she said, adding that she lost her actual brother Jamohl after he attempted to broker a truce between rival gangs in 2006.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, she was back at the intersection, a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream truck idling across from the memorial and boxes of Domino’s pizza stacked up on a dining room table that had been dragged outside.
Several dozen people mingled as a police car blocked off traffic up the street and George Forman III boxed with a small cadre of elementary school-age children. A podium, borrowed from a nearby church, was placed in between the pizza and the memorial, and Mission Hill Councillor Michael Ross, a mayoral candidate, made his way through the crowd, which included members of the EMS union that has endorsed his bid.
Ross, who chairs the City Council’s public safety committee, had helped Norfleet set up the block party, which doubled as a neighborhood remembrance of lost loved ones and an unveiling of Ross’s 19-page public safety proposal. Rev. Miniard Culpepper had connected the two several weeks ago, when she was seeking help in getting the street blocked off.
For Norfleet, her main concern is the guns.
“They need to focus on where the gun came from,” she said before the event got underway. “They got it from somewhere.”
Ross’s public safety plan includes strengthening the city’s gun- buy-back program and “seeking stronger penalties” for sellers and distributors of illegal guns. Ross also proposes a “safety tax” on all sales of guns and ammunition within city limits. The revenue would go to anti-violence initiatives.
The plan also calls for a “wider range” of after school sports and arts programs, as well as more police substations and satellite offices and hiring higher numbers of minorities and women as police officers.
“I don’t lead with guns. I think it’s a huge part. I lead with opportunity,” Ross told the Reporter. “That to me is what is a critical part of any public safety plan. So it’s jobs, it’s education, it’s tech voc high school, it’s creating pathways for young people whether they are on the right path or slipping off that path, to get back on that path, to be able to create opportunities for them, to get into college or get a job in the trades, or in some other job.”
In his speech, Ross referenced Haynes’s murder and the gang violence the neighborhood has seen. “Until this community is safe, until this community provides opportunity for the people of our city, we will not have succeeded,” Ross said. “Success to me looks like this corner being cleaned up. It’s not about what is happening downtown alone.”