Gov. Deval Patrick unveils his plan to curb youth violence throughout Massachusetts. In the last 20 years, the homicide rate has doubled in Boston and as a result Patrick says he will file legislation for tougher gun laws. (Photo courtesy of Gov. Deval Patrick’s Office)
|Gov. Deval Patrick speaks to a crowd about his plan to reduce youth violence. (Photo courtesy of Gov. Deval Patrick’s Office)
Gov. Deval Patrick unveiled his new plan last week to curb youth violence throughout the state. As part of the “Massachusetts Safe and Successful Youth Initiative,” the governor said that he plans to file legislation for tougher gun laws and will seek an additional $10 million to fund local partnerships.
“This plan centers on the belief that peace in urban communities is achievable,” Patrick said as he inaugurated the program at the Boston Centers for Youth and Families’ Mildred Avenue Community Center in Mattapan. “We must stop children from killing children, ending the despair felt by too many young people and the fear of violence felt by everybody else.”
Violence remains a critical public health concern across the state and the country, particularly for black youth. While violent crime is the second leading cause of death for all 10-24 year olds nationwide, homicide remains the top cause of death among black males in this age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2008, blacks accounted for 48 percent of all murder victims, even though they only comprise 13 percent of the total population.
Local statistics paint a similar picture. According to the Boston Public Health Commission, an astounding 56 percent of black Bostonians report having a close family member or friend killed by violence. Fifty-two percent of Latinos report the same, while only 17 percent of whites have been impacted by violence in this way.
The homicide rate in Boston has more than doubled in the past 20 years. In 1999, it stood at an average of 4.3 deaths per 100,000 people, and by 2002 jumped to 10.4 deaths. The next year saw a marked decline to 6.4 deaths, but then steadily increased to nine average deaths in 2008. But the black homicide rate towers above this citywide average — in 2008, it stood around 30 deaths per 100,000 people — and is the highest of any race or ethnic group.
Similarly, blacks have the highest rate of non-fatal assault-related gunshot and stabbing wounds in Boston, at 49.5 per 10,000 people, compared to whites, whose rate stands at just 3.3 wounds per 10,000 people. Among these victims, youth ages 15-24 of all races comprise more than half, 51.2 percent.
In light of these grim figures, Patrick’s “Safe and Successful Youth Initiative” will focus on several goals: deterring youth impacted by violence; creating more peaceful communities; facilitating community re-entry for offenders; and getting guns off the street.
“We have made substantial progress in working with Governor Patrick and Speaker DeLeo to combat youth violence but the uncontrolled violence that is still threatening our cities and towns is unnerving,” State Senate President Therese Murray said. “I applaud Governor Patrick for this effort to proactively target the root of the problem and hope that these additional resources will serve as a support system for our neighborhoods that continue to battle an upsurge of violence in their communities.”
Massachusetts will manage a multi-million dollar grant program aimed at filling gaps in social services for “high risk” young men throughout the state, including trauma informed case management, intensive supervision, employment, education and health care. The Patrick administration will also file legislation for stricter gun laws and propose several other measures to tighten existing gun laws, including defining three new gun-related crimes.
In addition, the initiative will encourage Massachusetts adult correctional facilities to continue their community re-entry work, which includes finding housing, employment or education and a life plan by the time of discharge; and will support community-wide prevention strategies aimed at restoring peace, which includes opportunities for youth leadership development and conflict resolution training.
“Gun violence has had a devastating effect on families all across Boston and the Commonwealth,” said State Majority Whip Jack Hart. “Urban working families should be entitled to raise their children in a safe environment free from gun violence.”
Also in attendance at Mildred Avenue Community Center was state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry. “I am happy that the governor is here in Mattapan to announce his initiative to take on youth violence,” she said. “This is an issue that affects everyone in the community, and that is why we need to come together in one united effort to make our neighborhoods safe.”
None have been more active on reducing gun violence than Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. He too stood with Patrick.
“Nothing is more important than the success of our young people,” Menino said, “and it is critical that we work together across all levels of government to provide our children and families with the comprehensive support system they need to succeed. From education and social services to public safety, this is a job that nobody can do alone.”
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