The homicide rate is up in parts of Mattapan and Dorchester compared to last year and residents are taking notice. Within the course of three weeks, four grisly murders have rocked local neighborhoods.
Shockingly, three of the victims were under the age of 18. With the most recent murder of 14 year-old Nicholas Fomby-Davis on Bowdoin Street, many question why an surge of gang violence has suddenly beset the city’s youth.
Last Friday evening, about seventy neighbors gathered at the Holland Community Center in reaction to Fomby-Davis’ May 30th slaying by two reputed gang members. It seemed that everyone had a story of bloodshed, from the children who had lost friends to street violence, to a retiree who had been shot in the leg outside of a local liquor store. The common thread throughout was that a more vocal community would be a better protected one.
“People who are outside…what they don’t know is that this is actually a good neighborhood,” said Jeremiah LeCourt.
“How many of us are afraid to talk to the police because we think it will come back to us?” asked community activist Philippe Lapiste.
“We should have a community that stands for [our neighbors] and behind them,” said Fomby-Davis’s father, Nathaniel Davis Jr. “Everybody knows what’s going on…but nobody does anything. Let’s start doing something.”
The Boston Police Department has taken action of it own, circulating a controversial flier of reputed gang members that has generated both praise and condemnation, including rebukes in editorials from the Reporter and the Boston Globe. The flier included a photo array of ten young men believed to be associated with the gang responsible for the Fomby-Davis murder. While reminiscent of an Old West “wanted” poster, the flier does not list the names of the suspects or any of the crimes that they might be suspected of committing. The apparent goal is to shame the suspects in their own families and communities. In a statement to the Boston Globe last week, Police Commissioner Ed Davis insinuated that the men on the poster were connected to the two suspects in the murder of Fomby-Davis. Those two young men — Crisostomo Lopes, 20, and Joshua Fernandes 16, — were captured near the scene and charged with murder.
Carlos Henriquez, a candidate for state representative in the district that includes Bowdoin-Geneva, considered the flier an attempt to “reduce the community to simple informants,” rather than creating a proper partnership with the affected neighborhoods against crime. According to Henriquez, the measure is reactionary, instead of a real attempt to curtail the problem of crime on neighborhood streets.
“We are in a crisis and the police are not going to simply arrest their way out of it,” Henriquez said. “We need real alternatives for the impact players.”
Others considered the list to be confusing or worse, defamatory.
Roxbury activist Jamarhl Crawford called the flier “very stupid.”
“I’m not sure of the purpose. What am I supposed to do if I see one of these kids? Being in a gang in and of itself is not a crime. This is a violation of due process.”
Crawford also pointed out that the police may have inadvertently sent around a list of targets. “Suppose that [Fomby-Davis] has an uncle with a lot of guns. The police have just sent him a hit list. They should know better.”
The victim’s father —Nathaniel Davis — told 90.9FM WBUR that he had spotted some of the pictured individuals around the neighborhood, only to be told by the police that they were not really looking for the young men.
“What’s the sense in putting it out there if they ain’t going to do nothing, you know?” said Davis to WBUR.
For some, however the strategy’s potential benefits outweigh the risks that may come with it.
“They are criminals. Why should we protect them?” said Phillipe Lapiste when asked about the poster’s possible hit list function. “If they are going to be doing this, then they should have to own up to it.”
“I think it would work,” said Kevin Seely, program coordinator of StreetSafe Boston. “There are some parents who are in denial…people need to know what their kids are involved in.”
City Councilor Charles Yancey encouraged the community to speak up, particularly against the closing of various after school programs around Dorchester, which he feels will exacerbate the problems of violence among children.
“I think that the community is being irresponsible by remaining silent.
“It’s the communities who remain silent, that usually end up in pain,” said Yancey.