Jermaine Perry was shot multiple times and left for dead on his Mattapan doorstep on December 29, 2008. It happened shortly after noon; he'd just finished walking a younger cousin home nearby, and was headed back to his apartment when assailants caught him. By the time the ambulance carrying Perry reached Boston Medical Center, the 17-year-old had died. No one ever found out why he was attacked, or if there even was a reason.
Jermaine's mother, Teresa Perry, describes the anguish that followed her son's death as nightmarish. But she quickly learned that Jermaine's murder was just the first of many cold-hearted attacks that her family would endure.
"One of my cousins called me the next day," says Perry, "and she told me that they wrote in the paper that my son was in a gang. Bad enough that someone had killed my son, but now this type of article came out. Everybody said I shouldn't look at it, but when they finally got me a copy of the paper, what I saw wasn't just insensitive. It was unbearable."
Perry was outraged to see that the Boston Herald had labeled Jermaine a "suspected teenage gangbanger," and reported that he was "blasted to death in a hail of bullets."
"They made it sound like he went down blazing," says Perry. "My son was not in a gang. He was a student with a job at a community center, and he was unarmed walking into his own home at 12 o'clock in the afternoon."
Her agony already amplified, Perry and her family took time out of their immediate mourning to set things straight with the Herald. But the subsequent retraction and follow-up article — "Kin: Victim didn't have gang ties" — hardly resolved things. Before long, in addition to having to defend Jermaine's reputation to editors, they were also subjected to a storm of hateful online comments aimed at their family.
"People were saying things, like that I was an unfit mother," says Perry, "and that Jermaine probably had kids, which he didn't. I didn't want to read those comments at the time, because I was going through so much, but I did anyway, and people need to be very careful about what they write. They don't understand what they do. They don't understand how I feel."
"Anonymous Boston," a new multimedia installation opening at Fourth Wall Project this Friday and continuing there for two weeks, addresses the media's role in covering inner-city homicides. By giving center stage to families like the Perrys that have lost loved ones — and juxtaposing their stories with how the media and its consumers documented events that impacted their lives — "Anonymous Boston" empowers survivors to shape their family's narrative in ways previously untold.
"Too often the media uses urban violence tragedies for purposes beyond informing — purposes that are exploitative and spun for entertainment," says Joanna Marinova-Jones, a community activist and organizer who spearheaded "Anonymous Boston." "Yet, once the coffin closes and the photo-ops are over, the families are left to put the pieces back together."
Marinova-Jones is currently suing the Herald for defamation, after it published an article accusing her of having sex with an inmate, now her husband, during a visit to the Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater.
"It's not just the Herald," she says. "I think the Herald has the worst kind of charged headlines, but other papers also aren't doing in-depth reporting and analysis either. They're treating these lives like they're disposable."
Marinova-Jones summoned a village to raise this project. Among her collaborators: the violence-mediation team at Street Safe, street artist Thomas B. Quest, photographer Ernesto "Eroc" Arroyo, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. (The Phoenix is a media sponsor of the exhibit.) But her primary help and inspiration came from the friends and relatives of violent-crime victims — many of whom are sharing their stories through the installation.
Too often, public perceptions of inner-city violence are shaped by media gatekeepers and their readers: a self-reinforcing loop that leaves out the city's most vulnerable victims. For them, the media remains distant, and online commenters are often just fake names floating in a vacuum. There's no one to talk back to, nobody to refute. "Anonymous Boston" aims to give these victims' mothers, siblings, and loved ones a voice — finally, a chance to tell their side of a story they feel no one wanted to hear. In that spirit, we're presenting the following excerpts in their own words, taken from conversations that "Anonymous Boston" conducted with participating survivors. They do not speak for the families of all victims, though they share a common desire for fairness, media responsibility, and justice.