Stopping Violence Before It Starts

Efrain Arias, YWCA Boston’s Youth Outreach Coordinator

For many of us that reside in Boston, we are fortunate to live in a city with relatively low crime rates. We can walk in the city streets with almost no fear regardless of what time of day or night it may be.

This of course is not the reality for all residents of the city.

Most acts of violence barely make the headlines and affect only the community where the act was committed. This often leaves local residents alone in their grief—isolating them from the rest of the City of Boston.

A Boston Foundation report shows that about 80% of violent crimes in the city of Boston take place in the neighborhoods of South Dorchester, Lower Roxbury and Mattapan.  These neighborhoods are predominantly home to Boston’s African-American community.

These neighborhoods share another common reality, abject poverty.

Statistically speaking, the 2010 Boston Health Report shows that the similarities between these neighborhoods run even deeper.  In a study of Boston Public High School students, the report shows that the Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan youth have the least trust in the police – 34%, 33% and 32% respectively – compared to  43% of Boston youth overall and 80% of predominantly white West Roxbury.

Similarly, these neighborhoods are most likely to withhold information from law enforcement.  Forty-one percent of Mattapan youth claim that they would not report a crime. Dorchester and Roxbury follow at 37% and 35%.

Apathy and a lack of civic engagement from these communities, however, do not reflect an inherent culture in the neighborhood, but rather a reaction to the reality that surrounds it: The report indicates that 56% of black and 52% of Latino students have had a close family member or friend killed, compared to 17% of white students.

The racial history of our city only serves only to complicate the messy relationship between communities of color and law enforcement.

In neighborhoods plagued by chronic violence and poverty, the idea of justice is theoretical and the hope for a better tomorrow is hanging by a thread.

But we should not waste our energy and efforts by pointing the finger of blame. Instead we should invest our attention and resources to finding solutions.

There is reason to be hopeful.

YWCA Boston is no silent bystander.

We understand that violence is symptom of a chronic disease. In the short term, we must improve youth police relations. Our Youth / Police Dialogue program creates a venue for structured discussions about neighborhood issues with youth and local Boston Police and MBTA Transit Officers. 

In the long term, we must address systemic forces that perpetuate poverty and violence. Our LeadBoston program engages leaders across sectors and looks at crime in the city of Boston holistically. How can the leaders of the Boston Public Schools, Boston Police, government officials and corporate leaders’ work together to increase opportunity and deal with crime in collaboration? This question and many more are explored during the 11-month program.

We can make our city safer for all its residents. We can restore justice and hope for all. We just need to be proactive about it.