The war over peace

A decade after the 'Boston Miracle,' violent crime has again overtaken parts of the city. Can the miracle makers create a new peace?
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  February 5, 2010

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Cease and desist: Operation Ceasefire brought peace to the streets, and then let it all slip away. By Chris Faraone.
In the early infancy of this five-week-old year, Boston has been rocked by four homicides and 10 non-fatal shootings. By the time this goes to print, there may well be more. On January 24 alone, a 22-year-old male died at Boston Medical Center after being shot near his home in Mattapan. Blocks away, police busted a man the same age for gun possession following another shootout. And in East Boston, cops arrested a 13 year old for armed robbery. Needless to say, residents of Greater Boston have seen brighter, less bloody days.

Once upon a time, though, the Hub won more accolades for curbing violence than for all its pro-sports feats combined. After initiating bold tactics that dramatically stunted youth-homicide rates in the late 1990s, efforts to curb street violence were heralded as models for reducing gang killings and shootings nationwide. In 1997, President Bill Clinton came here to launch a national safety plan aimed at replicating the "Boston Strategy to Prevent Youth Violence" in other metropolises. That same year, Mayor Tom Menino was singled out for honors at the United States Conference of Mayors, where he received the Ford Foundation Innovations Award for presiding over what was popularly hailed as the "Boston Miracle."

Soon after, Newsweek ran a cover story touting the cooperation between Boston police, pols, community members, and black clergy.And in 1999, when the number of homicides plunged from an all-time high of 150 to 31, its lowest rate in two generations, other large cities — including New York — adopted Boston-type plans to combat their own spiking murder trends.

But within just a few years, around 2000 — faster and less famously than Boston rose to prominence — the so-called miracle imploded.

For reasons both within and beyond their control — from vicious infighting and apathy to funding cuts — politicians, ministers, and law-enforcement personnel lost the hard-fought influence they had won over the at-risk neighborhoods they had once subdued. In the words of Reverend William Dickerson of Greater Love Tabernacle in Dorchester: "The Boston Miracle" became "The Boston Embarrassment."

Now, more than 10 years after Boston's crime-prevention heyday, a coalition of high-level local power players has committed to reintroducing these once-effective methods that were later abandoned. Led by the public-policy powerhouse The Boston Foundation (TBF), and united behind that storied nonprofit's privately funded, multi-million-dollar StreetSafe initiative, such decorated heroes as Boston Police Department (BPD) Lieutenant-Detective Gary French and Boston TenPoint Coalition Executive Director Reverend Jeffrey Brown (representing a proactive group of black ministers) are vowing to once again storm Boston's deadliest blocks — peacefully.

Few doubt that TBF or their collaborators at City Hall, the Boston Police Department, or the TenPoint Coalition want anything but safer streets. But the foundation is already having difficulty funding its youth-intervention specialists, or streetworkers, who are spearheading the StreetSafe offensive. The streamlining of TBF streetworkers and their city-employed counterparts for maximum results also has come slower than expected. Many observers are now asking whether StreetSafe quarterback, TBF program Vice-President Robert Lewis Jr., and his co-crusaders can put the greater good above their egos and clear the smoke in Boston's long-fought war over peace.

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