The war over peace

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  February 5, 2010

ONE LOVE? At an NPR Radio Boston taping this past November, Boston Foundation Vice-President Robert Lewis Jr. (top) and Boston TenPoint Coalition Executive Director Reverend Jeffrey Brown emphasized the need for collaboration among the city’s peace advocates.

In the wake of crack and crackers
As a multi-platform youth-violence-prevention program designed specifically for Boston, StreetSafe incorporates a number of dynamic actions that have seen success here throughout the past two decades. To understand the ambitious new blueprint designed by Lewis and his allies, it is important to recognize measures they deployed almost 20 years ago in the city's most violent squares, back when hoodlums brazenly opened fire at funerals, and when annual homicide rates hovered at around 100.The Hub saw exactly 100 murders in 1989, the same year that white Reading retailer Charles Stuart shot and killed his wife and unborn child in Mission Hill, and subsequently fingered an innocent African-American assailant. The heinous accusation — which led to a rash of young black men being profiled and strip-searched as their families watched — significantly worsened the already-bruised relationship between police and Boston's black community. Crack-cocaine was then also ravaging blighted streets; the confluence of these deleterious elements resulted in near-contagious authoritative distrust in Boston's minority neighborhoods. That feeling was only exacerbated when Stuart's brother, Matthew, confessed to having conspired with his sibling in the premeditated execution.

Toward the end of 1990, in response to a shocking escalation in violence, including more than 150 homicides that year, then-mayor Ray Flynn commissioned a group dubbed the Boston Streetworkers. Tasked to mentor and intervene with at-risk youth, the crew of nearly 40 hired operatives — under the guidance of Lewis — were dispatched to Boston's most dangerous blocks and housing projects.

"We didn't just have a core group of people who knew what had to get done, and who were willing to be on-call 24-hours-a-day," recalls Tracy Lithcutt, who helped manage the Boston Streetworkers through 2003. "Years ago, we were lucky to have law-enforcement officials, the mayor, and probation on board. I could go directly to [Menino, who won the mayor's office in 1993] and he would give me anything we needed — whether it was transportation, tickets, funding, or whatever."

The now-legendary marriages between Boston's peace-minded leaders took years to fully flourish, though bonds were particularly strengthened on the heels of some key occurrences. One crucial incident central to comprehending why various factions — among and within church and city circles — stopped bickering and started collaborating occurred at the Morningstar Baptist Church on Blue Hill Avenue in May of 1992.

After a young man was stabbed and beaten outside a rival gang-member's funeral, in broad daylight, and in the presence of families, police became willing to team with civilian forces — even though some members of the BPD distrusted those streetworkers who were recruited for their former gang status, and who in some cases had served serious time for violent crimes. Detectives also began inviting probation officers to weekly meetings for better contingency.

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