Anti-violence protestors decry Boston police inaction
Amid calls for transparency, Washington Post report reveals gap in homicide arrest rates
Anti-violence activists rallied in Franklin Park on Friday evening, demanding strategic action and increased accountability from the Boston Police Department, amid reports of racial disparities between homicide arrest rates for white and black victims.
Declaring a “state of emergency,” in communities of color, Monica Cannon-Grant, founder of the nonprofit organization Violence in Boston, led about 50 residents and anti-violence protestors from groups including Black Lives Matter Cambridge and the Center for Teen Empowerment in urging Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Boston police to develop a citywide violence prevention program.
“People in our community are usually seen as numbers,” said Cannon-Grant, a former candidate for state representative, who said she felt compelled to organize the demonstration “to give faces to the victims of violent crime, and their loved ones.”
Among the crowd gathered in the parking lot at 6 p.m. that evening was Domingos DaRosa, a community activist, local business owner and father of four. DaRosa was shot a few weeks ago as he unloaded work tools from his truck outside his mother’s home on Draper Street in Dorchester.
After his regular evening visit to check on his elderly mother and disabled brother, DaRosa was struck by a bullet in his left calf and his brother was hit several times as they stood on the sidewalk. He drove himself and his brother to Boston Medical Center, where, he told the Banner, he was bombarded with questions by the police.
“I was treated as if I was the assailant,” said DaRosa, “as if I was the bottom of the pit.”
But, DaRosa, like many other activists at the event last week, understands that the relationship between police and the community is fraught with mistrust and unease.
Cost of Cooperation
Victims or accomplices in violent crime who talk to police officers often face retribution from community members, who view their cooperation as disloyal, while the police offer little to no witness protection, forcing many people to stay silent.
“All I’m seeing from [the mayor] is insensitive comments but no action,” said Cannon-Grant.
She sees the mayor’s evident frustration with the lack of information offered by the community in some cases as insensitive. To her, it seems Walsh is trivializing the dilemma facing residents when deciding to report a violent crime, and she believes his remarks ignore the fact that a lot of locals are cooperating with the BPD.
“Stop blaming us because you can’t do your job,” she said at the rally.
“We have to change the narrative when it comes to communities of color,” Cannon-Grant told the Banner. “We do care, we are concerned and we are talking to officers,” she said, adding that trauma associated with violent crime and the practice of racial profiling makes it harder for communities to trust Boston police.
Aside from the contentious police-community relationship, Cannon-Grant said investment in preventive action for some of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods is not politically expedient for city councilors and state representatives. They are not interested in protecting communities of color, she said, because they typically have low voter turnout rates.
Similarly, DaRosa noted the lack of political will to talk about solutions to violent crime, outside of election cycles. “After elections are done we don’t see [politicians] again for another two to four years,” he said.
DaRosa was unsurprised to see Shannon McAuliffe, Rachael Rollins and Ture Turnbull at the rally. McAuliffe and Rollins are candidates in this year’s District Attorney’s race, while Turnbull is running for the 11th Suffolk District state representative seat.
The demonstration’s timing could not have been more crucial, coming just two days after a report released by the Washington Post revealed that Boston has one of the widest gaps in arrest rates for white and black homicide victims.
Over the last decade, BPD officers made arrests in 90 percent of homicides involving white victims, but only in 42 percent of those with black victims, the Post reported.
“That’s a problem, it’s not an accident,” said Cannon-Grant.
The mayor said to reporters last week, “No police officer and nobody in public safety wants to have these homicides go unsolved,” in response to the explosive report.
“When a homicide happens in Boston, there’s families affected by it, and we want to make sure that they have some comfort knowing that the person that committed the heinous crime of taking a loved one from them — we catch them and it goes through the court process — that’s our goal,” said Walsh.
As of July 27, there have been 103 shootings in Boston this year so far, 78 non-fatal and 25 fatal.
The BPD Media Relations office declined to comment.
Tanisha Sullivan, president of the NAACP’s Boston branch, said this alarming arrest gap proved the urgent need for a public safety strategy and for gun violence to become the top priority for Boston police and the new commissioner, William Gross.
“We must put an end to the senseless… loss of life in the city,” Sullivan told the Banner.
She suggested a public safety strategy should be developed collaboratively among a diverse group of stakeholders, including police officers, the city’s neighborhood services department and community leaders. It should provide culturally competent trauma services and give young people access to employment and educational opportunities, she said.
“Young people, given a choice, would prefer not to engage in violent activity, but because they don’t have jobs and aren’t getting an education, their options are what’s on the street,” said Sullivan.
Protesters mingled in Franklin Park for about an hour, sharing their personal experiences of violence, discussing potential solutions and writing messages to the mayor on posters.
One sign read “Listen to the people from the community, not only the ones you choose to listen to,” while another simply stated “Do your job and stop lying.”
Cannon-Grant, who goes by the Twitter handle @ProRockThrower, plans to take the issue to City Hall if officials do not respond to her protests.
“Until people are uncomfortable,” she said, “change isn’t going to happen.”