Joan Vennochi

After more youth shootings, where's the outrage?

By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / October 26, 2008
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THREE young boys are shot and the city yawns.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino called upon the Roxbury neighborhood where the crime took place to "get outraged."

That gives the rest of us license to do what we usually do after reports of gang-related violence: Spend a brief moment, at best, shaking our heads over someone else's problem.

According to police, Jermeil Amir Robinson, 17, allegedly pulled his gun on 11- and 12-year-old boys who were playing ball, simply because he wanted to hurt someone living in Roxbury's Academy Homes apartment complex.

Boston police Commissioner Edward F. Davis called the shooting "an appalling act of cowardice."

Those words won't stop future cowards from stalking their prey. Maybe nothing will, even the best efforts of police.

If enough of us accept that conclusion, it is easy to shrug away the latest headlines. At least this time, no one was killed.

The overall number of shootings in Boston is down this year. But the victims are getting younger. The number of shooting victims age 17 and younger has nearly tripled over the last five years, from 23 in 2002 to 67 in 2007. Last week, two young female teenagers were stabbed on an MBTA bus.

Kevin Peterson, executive director of the Ella J. Baker House in Dorchester, sees "crisis fatigue" as a problem undercutting efforts to address black-on-black crime. Local clergy and community activists are worn down by years of trying to stop it, he said.

"Very young people are being victimized. There doesn't seem to be the appropriate level of outrage and concern," said Peterson, who extends that critique to Governor Deval Patrick. After promising to pay attention to urban violence, Patrick "has not made it a priority," he said.

A year ago, Peterson led a delegation of teenagers from Roxbury, Mattapan, Dorchester, and Hyde Park who accused the governor of indifference when they tried to meet with Patrick to discuss their concerns about violence. A year later, Patrick appointed a youth council.

The governor also recently announced severe budget cuts that will slash community police funding across the state; Boston could lose as much as $870,000.

People don't seem to care as much about budget cuts like that, or about urban violence and the efforts to stop it.

Sometimes the victim's young age does generate empathy. That happened when 8-year-old Liquarry Jefferson was accidentally shot by his 7-year-old cousin. The brother, now 16, who brought the handgun used in the shooting into his home, just accepted a plea deal that keeps him out of state prison for involuntary manslaughter and lying to police.

Sometimes, where the guns go off attracts attention.

A bullet that shattered a State House window a year ago drew extensive media coverage, and declarations of outrage from the governor and mayor.

When two young men were stabbed and someone opened fire in Downtown Crossing earlier this month, violence at that location was considered surprising. Yet, no one seemed especially indignant.

The city can point to a decrease in overall shootings as a sign of some success. But that is a dangerous moral calculus. Are we really willing to look the other way as young people kill and maim each other, just because the tally is somewhat down?

This city retains some of its old passions - sports, and, to some degree, politics. But in recent years, Boston has developed new passion for fashion, celebrity, and more ostentatious displays of wealth. Does the new glitz supplant the old sensibility of working together to solve difficult problems? Or of caring enough to try?

"We need people to be offended by this," said Menino, and he is right. But the offended need to stretch beyond the street and the neighborhood where these three young boys were shot.

Many in this city, black and white, cannot wait to vote for the first black president. Why not pull together just as eagerly to address the violence that routinely takes down Boston teenagers? That would make history, too.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at

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