Boston demands action to stop growing street crime, violence

Increased street crime and violence this past summer - teen-agers shooting teen-agers, instances of gang-drug warfare - have Bostonians protesting and demanding action. Victims have included children, such as 11-year-old Darelene Tiffany Moore, shot to death Aug. 19 as she sat outdoors with other children, or 14-year-old Richard Bailey, stabbed fatally Aug. 30.

Deputy Superintendent William Celester has been leading the law-enforcement counterattack. He is in charge of the city's busiest police precinct, which includes the inner-city areas of North Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan.

``We have opened a Mattapan substation; we have added 250 men; we are working with public housing and public transportation police,'' he says. ``Our community-service officers are working with young people. We have the support of church and neighborhood activists. But I wonder what we can do to entice hungry, jobless street youth to reject the lure of so-called big money for running or pushing drugs?''

In a recent incident, a Boston Housing Authority (BHA) officer, reportedly posing as a drug pusher, shot two men after one of them allegedly placed a knife at his throat.

Boston police attribute local violence to two sources: first, the peddling of illicit drugs, often in abandoned buildings in poor, ghetto, and public-housing communities occupied by blacks and other minorities; and, second, the struggle of adolescents for their own turf.

``We are truly upset ... seeing children killing children,'' says Jim Jordan, a Boston Police Department spokesman. ``We are facing the issue from two angles, gang warfare and individual or family problems. ... We recognize only a couple of serious gangs that are leaning toward criminal enterprise, including drug trade. Our policy is to gather intelligence and then go after gangs or hostile individuals. Otherwise, trouble ensues when someone waves a gun or some other dangerous weapon that could cost lives....''

``We are working with Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith [state public health commissioner] to deal with youths with problems, individual or family,'' Mr. Jordan says. ``Dr. Prothrow-Stith utilizes social service and other agencies to help her deal with families and people with problems.''

Meanwhile, local citizens are upset. They have been holding mass gatherings, press conferences, and study meetings on street crime. Activists demand facilities to deal with youth violence. Residents want everything from neighborhood watch groups to beefed-up police patrols aided by voluntary community patrols.

The danger of vacant buildings (from which many drug pushers operate) has become so great that the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency has announced it is financing 24-hour security around abandoned properties that it has put up for subsidized redevelopment. The police have strengthened special patrols that help protect local public housing developments and reinforce a small BHA force.

One activist group, Project FATE (Focusing Attitudes Toward Empowerment), recently conducted an outdoor press conference on the doorsteps of the State House. Appealing to Gov. Michael Dukakis, FATE's leader, Sadiki Kambon, said:

``We, as people of color and residents of greater Roxbury, are suffering a high level of oppression. Statistics - a 50 percent dropout rate (highest in the nation), high unemployment, and high infant mortality ... reflect a community in distress, a community that lacks control of its people and its day-to-day activities....''

The Greater Roxbury Improvement Project has revived its push to separate black neighborhoods from the city into a community that would be called Mandela. A nonbinding vote on this issue is scheduled for Nov. 8. A similar referendum was defeated in 1986.

Inner-city people express their views weekly at Roxbury rallies. Kim Jones, organizer of a youth rally, says: ``We have to militantly stand up and claim our children. We are not a poverty-stricken community. Black people don't manufacture drugs or import drugs.''

Better-known community leaders like Mel King, former mayoral candidate and state legislator and a member of the local Rainbow Coalition, and Shirley Carrington, director of the Roxbury Multi-Service Center, are also calling meetings.

Public-housing residents are demanding police protection, noting that city police have traditionally provided only limited patrols. Police have raided ``vacant'' apartments where they alleged drug and other illegal traffic was occurring. Many young men have been arrested in relation to community violence but have yet to go to trial.

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