Editorial: Don’t fall for the ‘big lie’ about city safety

One of the infuriating take-aways from the recent HBO mini-series on the 1989 Stuart conspiracy, murder, and cover-up is the hubris and ignorance of the one Boston cop interviewed, Billy Dunn, a retired officer who hails from Dorchester. Dunn, who was a beat cop in Mission Hill back in the day, was one of the people deployed to find a Black suspect in the aftermath of Carol Stuart’s killing. To this day, Dunn refuses to embrace the facts that Stuart killed his wife and that Black men were framed for the atrocity.

What’s even more egregious is the way that Dunn seeks to portray present-day Boston as some kind of hellscape, as though the Boston that he policed in the ‘80s and ‘90s was a safer place.

“The city’s gone,” Dunn laments in the documentary. “The city ain’t there no more. We did things different… not because we broke any rules; we were allowed to do that.”

The inference we are supposed to take, of course, is that Boston has become more dangerous and crime-ridden since Dunn’s “good-ole-days.”

That’s a pernicious lie.

Whatever Billy Dunn and his compatriots thought they were doing right… it didn’t work. In 1990, there were 152 people murdered within city limits, a large number of them here in Dorchester. Teenagers were dying at an alarming rate. People who weren’t alive then— or hadn’t yet moved to this neighborhood— might have trouble relating to the palpable sense of fear and foreboding. And that’s a wonderful gift.

In 2023, Boston recorded 37 murders. There were 20 percent fewer shootings reported as well— 144 as compared to 180 in 2022. Overall, Boston is experiencing crime rates far below other American cities of comparable size.

Cops and politicians don’t like to trumpet news of crime drops— and for that matter, neither do newspaper publishers. In part, it’s superstition. Let’s not jeopardize the good run. It’s also because each of those 37 deaths is a tragedy that affects scores of people. One murder, one shooting, is one too many.

In a message highlighting the 2023 performance, Suffolk DA Kevin Hayden credited the public at large, but also singled out the “professional and tireless work by Boston police.” He noted that arrests were made in 67.5 percent of the murders to date.

“No one is taking any victory laps here,” said Hayden, “especially when serious crime still disproportionately affects our communities of color. But it’s important to point out promising trends.”

Hayden’s right. It’s also important to push back against the cynical mythology spun by the Billy Dunns of the world, who want everyone to think modern-day Boston is being run into the ground by the people in charge today. The fact that the men and women who are running the city now are largely Black, Brown, and Asian is a big part of why this version of the “big lie” is being propagated in the first place.

And make no mistake: It’s pernicious and racist. And it’s also an assault on the men and women of the current-day Boston Police, who should get credit for the fine work they’re doing.

Boston has come a long way since the bad ole’ days of the Stuart case and 152 murders. As Rev. Jeffrey Brown eloquently said in his rebuttal to Dunn in the Boston Globe-inspired HBO doc: “Hallelujah.”

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