It almost got lost in the white noise of the election, but a crime surge was in full fury across the city and especially in South Boston. According to Boston Police Department data for 1960 to 2011, the "part 1" category of murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, house breaks, and car thefts doubled from the prior decade and nearly tripled in South Boston.
The major-crime category reached its zenith in the first year of busing at 80,530 incidents across the city and 3,975 in Southie, according to the data. The property crimes were at a record level and the homicides were the second-highest ever at 119. The lawless era was exacerbated by a reduction in arrests, decreasing by 11 percent in the city as a whole and by a jarring two-thirds in South Boston.
Whitey's kind of town. It was the perfect raging storm: using madness through the decade, a sustained crime wave, and Whitey.
Forced busing in Southie became the twentieth-century counterpart to the Irish Potato famine, leaving similar scars on the Irish psyche from events swirling far out of their control. You couldn't get your arms around it, let alone kick its ass.
For independent Southie to lose oversight over its schools was to discover anew that it wasn't really in charge of its fate. Once again, meddlesome outsiders were deciding matters that profoundly affected South Boston's children and they couldn't stop it. The Yankee oligarchy had been replaced by a federal judge.
After months of agitation, anti-busers grappled with the realization that no amount of bloody street fi ghting was going to change a line of the nonnegotiable edict. It led to what was once unimaginable — defections to the suburbs by 20 percent of the population. They were the vanguard of white flight that changed Irish neighborhoods in a fundamental way.
But bad news was good news for Whitey.
The deeper Southie went into a rabbit hole of despair and defiance, the better it was for Whitey's business. The more it hated outsiders, the better it was inside Triple O's. It meant the town was down to the hard core who would rally around any Irish flag during its wild-west resistance, even one firmly planted in the underworld. And the mounting futility of the cause led to more drinking, which begat more barroom gambling and, inevitably, loan-sharking.
Even the disciplined Whitey almost gave in to the urge to strike back in the first disorienting days when black students arrived at South Boston High in September 1974. After the ugly opening week, rumors rocked a weekend crisis meeting at a City Hall that was struggling with managing a protest march set for Monday. Police told Mayor Kevin White that Whitey's Mullen Gang might be arming teenagers with handguns and if police tried to interfere with the march, the wiseguys were prepared to shoot it out.
"We can't screw around," White said. "We gotta call the feds." An aide with law enforcement connections called FBI director Clarence Kelley, once White's top pick for Boston police commissioner. Kelley ordered agents to knock on Mullen doors. Leaving no stone unturned, a panicky White called House Majority Leader Thomas "Tip" O'Neill of Cambridge to alert President Gerald Ford that federal troops might be required if resisters starting shooting at police.