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Governor targets youth violence

Seeks funding, new gun laws

Roy Martin (front left), P.A.C.T. program manager with the Boston Public Health Commission, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino (center) listened as Governor Deval Patrick outlined his plans to combat youth violence in Massachusetts. Roy Martin (front left), P.A.C.T. program manager with the Boston Public Health Commission, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino (center) listened as Governor Deval Patrick outlined his plans to combat youth violence in Massachusetts. (Pat Greenhouse/ Globe Staff)
By Meghan E. Irons
Globe Staff / May 10, 2011

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Invoking the name of slain teenager Steven Odom yesterday, Governor Deval Patrick proposed a sweeping antiviolence initiative aimed at toughening gun laws, clamping down on street gangs, and pumping $10 million into programs targeting the most violent cities in the state.

Saying crime can be solved in urban areas, the governor called for a “focused and concentrated’’ effort to curb youth violence and infuse troubled communities with the help they need, from job training to trauma counseling.

Speaking at the Mildred Avenue Community Center in Mattapan, Patrick recalled recent spates of violence by teenagers who were shot or killed by other teenagers. He recounted the 2007 slaying of 14-year-old Odom, who was shot while walking home by another teenager, who was later gunned downed by yet another teenager.

“These stories are repeated too often around the Commonwealth,’’ Patrick told a large crowd of law enforcement officials, survivors, clergy, and community and nonprofit workers. “It’s not OK. We are losing too many children to gun and gang-related violence. The life of any young person is not expendable.’’

Patrick said his bill would target the proliferation of illegal guns by designating three new gun-related crimes: assault and battery with a firearm, assault with a firearm, and a felony in possession. The measure, he said, would “give law enforcement the tools they need to stop the most dangerous, violent criminals and take high-impact illegal weapon holders out of our communities.’’

Patrick said he would press for accountability by assessing anticrime initiatives, funding those that work and defunding those that don’t.

He said he would push to modernize efforts to pursue, disrupt, and prosecute organized criminal groups by expanding the definition of organized crimes to include street gangs and drug-trafficking networks. He would also target young men getting out of jail to help them find jobs and divert them from lives of crime.

Marilyn Anderson Chase, an assistant secretary of the state Office of Health and Human Services picked to lead the effort, said the issue of youth violence is close to the governor’s heart.

“The governor has numerous households where a family has lost a child and he’s been to numerous funerals,’’ she said. “I don’t know if there was one incident that led to this. I think this was something that has been a burden on his heart for a long time.’’

The effort would initially target areas with the highest crime. Chase said she and her staff have been talking with officials in Springfield, New Bedford, and Boston and will soon meet with Worcester officials.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino hailed the governor’s effort, saying Boston has witnessed the “tremendous power’’ of providing jobs, mentors, and a helping hand to troubled young people.

“We’ve seen too many lives cut short in Boston by youth violence,’’ he said. “We’ve also seen what can happen when families and churches and neighborhoods and nonprofits and businesses and government come together.’’

DeJuan Brown, who runs a nonprofit in Springfield called Awake, said many groups like his have struggled to respond to violence amid budget cuts.

“You can’t just stop doing the work because money is not there,’’ he said. “With the new funding . . . we will have what we need to make things happen.’’

State Representative Carlos Henriquez hailed what he called Patrick’s willingness to “invest in what works and disinvest from what doesn’t.’’

“Youth violence is the result of adult failures in households, schools, prison systems and other institutions,’’ Henriquez said.

Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com.