by Efrain Arias
Youth Outreach Coordinator, YWCA Boston
We who live in Boston are fortunate to live in a city with relatively low crime rates. Most of us walk the city streets with little 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 impact most directly the community where the act was committed. This often leaves local residents alone in their grief—isolating them in their stricken neighborhood and from the rest of the city.
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 communities.
These neighborhoods share another common reality: significant poverty rates.
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. 41% of Mattapan youth claim that they would not report a crime. Dorchester and Roxbury follow at 37% and 35%.
Apathy, a lack of civic engagement and fear that persists in those from these communities, however, do not reflect an inherent culture in the neighborhood, but rather a reaction to the reality of the violence that permeates 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 history of racial strife in our city 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 a theory, not a reality, and the hope for a better tomorrow is tenuous and some feel, 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. YWCA Boston is eager to engage the community on these tough issues and we see that there is reason to be hopeful. At the YWCA Boston, we understand that violence is a symptom of a chronic disease fueled by years of poverty, racial tensions and misunderstanding. In the short term, we must work on improving youth-police relations. Our Youth/Police Dialogue program creates a venue for structured and frank discussions about neighborhood issues with youth, 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 50 experienced executives across various sectors to examine the reasons for crime in the city of Boston on a holistic level. Since 1992, this program has addressed head on how leaders at Boston’s public schools, city police, government officials and corporate leaders’ can work together to increase opportunities for youth and help address crime and poverty rates by collaborating on solutions, especially for at-risk youth from troubled neighborhoods. Once a month, program participants meet with civic leaders, academicians and thought leaders to discuss pressing issues and explore how they can improve the city’s challenges, while developing a diverse and like-minded network.
We at the YWCA Boston believe we can make our city safer for all of our residents. We aim to restore justice and hope for all. We just need to be proactive about it.
Efrain Arias is YWCA Boston’s Youth Outreach Coordinator. He serves as the organization’s liaison with the Boston Police Department, transit police, and Massachusetts Department of Youth Services. He coordinates ongoing programs that engage more than 250 youth and law enforcement officials in joint efforts to curb violence in Boston.
This post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ blog carnival on issues of violence in all forms. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story on your blog or website, and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #ywcaWWV.