The burst of crime in Egleston Square—including the March 2 shooting of a 1-year-old infant on Walnut Avenue—is the target of two very different initiatives, one from the Boston Police Department (BPD) and one from District 7 City Councilor Chuck Turner.
The square—the area around the Columbus Avenue/Washington Street intersection—is one of four areas the BPD is hitting with heavy-duty police patrols, including officers on motorcycles and bicycles.
“We’ll get a good visible presence out there,” said Capt. Kelley McCormick, commander of the E-13 police station.
But Turner calls that a “suppression strategy” that ultimately won’t work. Instead, he has proposed a “Peace and Prosperity Initiative” for all residents of his district, which also includes parts of Roxbury, Dorchester, the South End and the Fenway.
A type of self-help program, it involves an ongoing series of reflective, almost therapeutic community meetings where residents will be encouraged to take responsibility for themselves and ask government to help them where it can.
“We have to look at changing behavior that encourages and condones violence,” Turner said. “We need to say the only way to change is to figure out a strategy for each of us. The core of the strategy is to say, ‘You’re worth something,’ especially to our youths.”
BPD Commissioner Ed Davis, accompanied by Mayor Thomas Menino, announced the plan to boost police presence last week.
Spokesperson Elaine Driscoll said that basically means a deployment of citywide units, including the gang unit, mountain bike patrols and “special operations” officers, especially motorcycle patrols.
McCormick said the local E-13 squad also will have extra patrols of both uniform and plainclothes officers, on foot and in cars. They will focus on Egleston Square but will patrol as far as Jackson Square.
Exact dates and patrol methods are secret, he said.
Some residents complained about a lack of police visibility in the area at the E-13 State of the District meeting in February.
McCormick said the Walnut Avenue shooting raised concerns, adding that patrols are in response “partly to general crime, and there are some youth issues up there”—a reference to gang activity.
“We are getting into the summer months out there,” McCormick said. “We want to be proactive.”
The BPD is also working on a controversial plan to patrol the city with a helicopter. [See related story.]
Peace and Prosperity
Turner said the crime situation in his neighborhood is the worst he’s seen in his 40 years in Boston.
But he expressed doubt about the police strategy, likening it to the controversial 2005 “Operation Rolling Thunder” that involved a similar flooding of hot spots with police.
“You don’t change attitudes by just intimidating and oppressing,” Turner said. “That’s the American way, the historical way, but it’s not the way that works.”
“The fact [is] that they’re just focusing on the symptom and not dealing comprehensively with the causes,” he said.
Turner’s initiative is intended to discuss the root causes of crime and violence with a broad view. He cited many influences: a high rate of school drop-outs; high youth unemployment; high domestic violence rates in Roxbury and Dorchester; high housing costs; lack of Streetworkers, city workers who mentor at-risk youths; and lack of anger management skills and good nutrition.
“We have large numbers of young people who are out of school on the street, with little skills in terms of the drop-outs, and no jobs,” Turner said, describing the foundation of a criminal economy.
“No leader’s going to come in and wave a magic wand,” Turner said. He hopes at his meetings, residents will discuss how these various issues impact them and what they can do to help themselves overcome them.
More specifically, that involves promoting an attitude of non-violence at all levels—even down to such culturally sensitive details as whether spanking children is appropriate.
The meetings are intended to be that personal and detailed, Turner said, rather than a rally atmosphere to “pump ourselves up.”
The initiative also includes a pledge for residents to sign. Signers
promise to “lead a life of non-violence”; work continuously on “self-development”; commit to legal means of making money; and work with others to call on officials to help them out.
“We’re not stupid. You can’t expect people to say, ‘I’ll do this’” without offering anything else, Turner said of the pledge. So the pledge also includes a place to list specific areas or items where the residents will need help to keep those promises.
If individual residents can commit to a peaceful life, the whole community will become peaceful, and that will make it economically prosperous as well, Turner explained.
He described his involvement in the process as highly personal as well.
“I’m not doing it as a politician,” he said. “Whether I’m [re]-elected or not, I’m going to stick with this.”
The first Peace and Prosperity Initiative community meeting will be held April 30 at 6 p.m. at 12th Baptist Church, 150 Warren St. in Roxbury. For more information, contact Turner at 635-3510.