A few weeks ago, minutes before the faithful would leave, a loud crackle sounded and wisps of smoke hung in the air. Two bullets had pierced the sanctuary of the Blue Hill Revival Center in Mattapan.
“They missed someone’s head by about 10 feet,” said Earlene Montgomery, one of the church leaders, pointing to a very large bullet hole in the front door of the church on Blue Hill Avenue. “Five minutes later, the service would have ended and we would have had 75 people standing back here, and someone would have been killed.”
Those shots on the night of Oct. 6 were among hundreds fired in Roxbury, Mattapan and North Dorchester during the month, one of the most violent on record in the area. The incidence of shootings has reached such proportions that the police designation for the neighborhoods—Area B—has become synonymous with violence.
A review of incomplete journal logs—on file at the police department’s Informational Services Office—indicated more than 60 cases of shots fired in October. In these cases four persons were shot to death; an average of one person a day was wounded; the rest of the shootings missed their mark.
While no statistics for October are available, police department figures for the 40 days from Sept. 6 to Oct. 16 show that 101 people were wounded in 170 shooting episodes in Area B. Over that period, the daily rate of shootings in Area B was approximately 33 percent higher than the rate recorded for comparable periods in 1988 and 1989.
The church, for example, was not a target. A teen-aged boy was. Those shots missed, but several others, fired two blocks up, did not. The boy was wounded.
The desecration of the Blue Hill Revival Center was not trumpeted on the evening news or splashed across the front pages of the daily newspapers. No one was hit; no bodies, no story.
But it was as symbolic an assault as any in Boston’s poorest neighborhoods this past month.
Now, nothing is sacred. Not churches. Not mothers with children. Not children.
Since anyone can be victimized by the increasing number of shootings, the police, the news media and even residents of the neighborhoods themselves are gradually redefining what is an outrage, what is routine and what is predictable.
As for the record number of shooting reports: “Those are just the ones the police hear about,” said a woman who lives in the Orchard Park housing project. “I hear so many shots now I don’t even call no more. I just get down and crawl along my kitchen floor, like on that TV show, ‘Combat.’ And hope the damn things don’t come through my window.”
Two weeks ago, however, several bullets did. The woman and her 13-year-old son were home; she was watching TV. The woman hit the floor, then crawled like an infantryman. They were lucky. No one was hit.
But with alarming frequency, people are not lucky. And more and more, innocent and unintended targets are getting caught, not necessarily in the cross fire, but the misfire.
While young people, many of them associated with inner city gangs, have what appears to be unlimited access to some of the most sophisticated guns on the black market, they are notoriously ignorant about the handling of such weapons and are poor marksmen.
As a result, it is not unusual for three, four or even five shooting attempts to occur before the intended target, usually a teen-aged male, is hit.
“What you’re going to see,” said John Conwell, an attorney who has represented both gang members and youths whom he says are inaccurately labeled as gang members by police, “is these kids are going to become better shots. You might have fewer shootings, but you’re going to have more bodies in the street.”
Conwell believes, as do many police who work in the city’s toughest
sections, that it is still a small minority of those armed who are quick to use guns. But as more guns hit the streets, the odds that they will be fired naturally increase.
There are many answers to the question of who is getting shot and why. Most of those who fire, and are fired at, are black men from 16 to 24 years old, police say. The shootings fall into general categories: Scores to be settled over anything from grudges to girlfriends, drug-related paybacks, cases of mistaken identity. And there are near-misses, far and away the most common kind of shooting in Boston.
The violence has had a profound effect on the quality of life in Roxbury, Mattapan and North Dorchester.
Some ordinary young people are packing extraordinary firepower for protection. The sound of gunfire has become as much a part of the nighttime in these neighborhoods as crickets in the suburbs.Continued...