Flanked by fellow religious and community leaders, the Rev. William E. Dickerson (fourth from left), pastor of the Greater Love Tabernacle in Dorchester, speaks during a press conference held on Wednesday, June 10, 2009, to address a recent high-profile spate of violence. Shootings are up more than 37 percent in Boston over 2008. (Yawu Miller photo)
With shootings up more than 37 percent through the first five months of 2009, police and anti-crime activists in Boston are bracing for what could be a violent summer.
Last week, in the wake of several high-profile shootings of men and women in Boston, a coalition of ministers active in anti-crime efforts called on the community members to take a stand against violence.
“We’re tired of burying our young black men,” said the Rev. William E. Dickerson, pastor of the Greater Love Tabernacle church in Dorchester. “Now women are being shot too. When we lose one child, it’s one child too many. We have to stand up and do what is right. Show our love to our community.”
The ministers’ call for a community response comes in the midst of a spike in violence that has seen the number of fatal and non-fatal shootings increase sharply over last year. There were 80 shootings between Jan. 1, 2008, and May 31, 2008. There were 110 during the same period this year.
Tito Jackson, who is running for one of the four at-large seats on Boston’s City Council, said providing services to youths is critically important.
“We need to look at the neighborhoods where the shootings are happening and make sure every kid in these neighborhoods has a job, has something to do, has a place to be and someone to account for them,” he said.
In addition to governmental and pastoral responses to the surge in gun violence, Dickerson said community residents can combat violence by simply maintaining a presence on the streets.
The ministers urged community members to sponsor cookouts, block parties and other family-oriented events to promote peace.
“We challenge everyone in the city to rise up and protect our neighborhoods,” said Nation of Islam Minister Rodney Muhammad.
Dickerson’s church conducts regular outreach to gang-involved youth and victims and survivors of violence. He called on community members to take greater responsibility for preventing violence.
On a weekly basis, Dickerson and Muhammad conduct neighborhood walks with pastors from other churches.
“It’s a way of engaging with young people, hearing their concerns and issues,” he said.
As a minister, Dickerson said he sees the uptick in violence in the community as a fundamentally spiritual problem.
While he and members of his congregation pray for both the victims and the perpetrators of violence, his church also participates in more material approaches to combating violence.
He helped collaborate on “Voices from Behind the Wall,” a video produced by incarcerated gang members featuring their apologies to their community for perpetrating acts of violence.
Dickerson’s church also works with local chapters of the carpenters and painters unions to provide job training to ex-offenders, and offers assistance to the families of shooting victims, providing moral support and material assistance, as well as referrals to government agencies like the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance.
Dickerson said it will take collaborative efforts to turn the tide of violence.
“It’s all hands on deck,” he said. “We have to do what we can to take back our communities.”