The aftermath of the August 12 slayings of three young women on Harlem Street has sparked a renewed outpouring of grief, anguish and soul-searching in Dorchester and surrounding communities impacted by violent crime. After a relatively quiet summer, the ides of August brought a disappointing and dramatic violent turn, with the Harlem Street killings and the broad daylight stabbing death of a young man in Dudley Square.
Sadly, we’ve been here before, most recently in Mattapan in 2010, when four people — including a mother and her toddler son— were gunned down in a heinous home invasion-turned-execution on Woolson Street. That case remains an open wound in Boston since the trials of the two men charged in the case ended in a mistrial and an acquittal,respectively, last March.
This month’s atrocity on Harlem Street has sparked familiar calls for justice and reform— along with the refrain from authorities that they need more help from “the community.” Despite the fact that police say they’ve had promising leads in this case, no arrests have yet been made public and the vehicle caught on surveillance footage leaving the scene has not been found either.
In the void, there has been plenty of hand-wringing about the need to end the “culture of violence” that feeds such crimes, but no simple prescription for tackling it. And the precise wrong thing to do at this juncture is to form new groups and initiatives to replicate what’s already being done at the grassroots level across the neighborhoods.
What’s needed right now is more resolve from neighbors to show up and stay engaged in existing organizations that are already doing good work in the hardest-hit communities. In the Blue Hill Corridor, for instance, there is an exceptionally good tool up and running right now for tackling quality-of-life, street-level problems before they blossom into “hot spots” for murder and gunfire. The Mayor’s Neighborhood Response Team (NRT)— run as a collaboration between ISD assistant commissioner Darryl Smith and community group’s like Grove Hall’s Project RIGHT— are making real progress between Dudley Street and Franklin Park. Smith, who lives in and knows the community well, also runs a similar program focused more on Mattapan and the B-3 police district. These groups meet regularly with community leaders to identify emerging trouble spots— typically properties that show signs of criminal activity and neglect. They then put needed city resources on the problems in a coordinated way.
The key to the effort, however, are neighbors who are willing to step forward to tip authorities on what they’re seeing from their vantage point. Such intelligence is needed to weed out houses of ill-repute, drug posts and scofflaws that give safe haven to low-level criminal activity that can quickly blossom into bigger public safety problems.
This model is working in Grove Hall and the Dudley Triangle. But it needs people to get engaged and stay engaged. If you live in one of the communities along Blue Hill Avenue— and want to do something immediate to help out— go to the next community engagement meeting hosted by the NRT. It’s being held at the Rev. Michael Haynes Early Education Center, 263 Blue Hill Ave. from 6-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 28.
If there’s a problem on the horizon on your street and you know it— don’t wait for it to become a crime scene. Tell this group about it now and empower yourselves to do something about it.
The disturbing truth about the Harlem Street murders is harder to accept. Harlem Street is not a typical source of trouble, according to police and city officials.
But, there are killers in our midst. They walk among us and they’re likely responsible for other unsolved killings that have stained our community and stolen young people from our neighborhoods in past years as well. These predators need to be locked away— whether they fired the gun on Harlem Street this month or some other street corner 15 years ago. If you know who they are, pick up the phone and call it in. Do it anonymously if you must. But do it and give the police a chance to make an arrest.