The war over peace

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  February 5, 2010

As part of this widespread cooperation, a number of both related and unrelated namesake programs were gauged to stop crime. Established in 1992, Operation Night Light capitalized on the improved cooperation between police and probation officers; representatives from those departments patrolled streets together, identifying and arresting chronic violators. Around the same time — largely in response to the catalyzing Morningstar incident — more than 30 black ministers formed the TenPoint Coalition to deliver services and youth employment to their communities, and to help bridge badges with black people. Such developments were urgently needed; in 1993, a year-long city-commissioned report concluded that BPD brass was terribly negligent in its policing of Boston's minority population.

By 1995, the Hub was already on track for its miraculous turnaround. In addition to healthy ties between a vast array of entities and agencies, the BPD was the beneficiary of an elaborate crime-prevention framework — put together by researchers with the Harvard Kennedy School of Government — that encompassed youth workers, clergy, and all other relevant players (see "Cease and Desist," page 12). The outcome made Boston's crime-fighting strategy (dubbed Operation Ceasefire) a marvel, and the Hub saw zero minors fall to gun violence in 1995 or 1996. It only took five years, though, for the economy and apathy to spoil the "Boston Miracle."

"Even if the economy had continued to thrive [around 2000], Boston still would have cut back on crime fighting," adds Jack Levin, who teaches sociology and criminology at Northeastern. "There was a widespread feeling that we had solved the problem of youth crime in this city. The truth is that you'll never reduce homicides to zero, but we definitely enjoyed low levels in the late 1990s."

"All of the priests and pastors who had done so much good work started traveling internationally to talk about it," says Pastor Bruce Wall. A rogue and independent reverend from Global Ministries Christian Church in Dorchester, Wall belonged to the original God squad that brought peace work directly to juvenile delinquents. "[BPD and TenPoint officials] were all gone talking at conferences while the people here were getting burnt, and there was nobody back home maintaining the success story. By the time everyone returned for good, the crime problem had escalated."

DEATH ROW: In the late ’80s and early ’90s, youth violence credited to rival gangs like the notorious Intervale Posse plagued sections of Boston. After a citywide effort to curb the epidemic seemed to turn things around, egos and economics tore down most of the progress that was made.

Introducing street safe
Optimism showers Faneuil Hall as the local NPR program Radio Boston tapes its November 2009 forum about StreetSafe. Those anchoring the powwow are excited to detail the direct social-engineering experiment — an unprecedented effort for the typically behind-the-scenes Boston Foundation — and attendees listen closely, with some taking notes. By show's end, the roomful of black, white, and blue-collar Bostonians rejoices at the initiative, which sounds promising, despite having been launched just four months earlier. A certain hope fills the historic hall; several potential donors approach the front afterward for further information on how to get involved.

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