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Girl's Shooting Sparks Worries in Boston About Renewed Surge of Gang Violence

July 02, 2002
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Girl's Shooting Sparks Worries in Boston About Renewed Surge of Gang Violence

by Jay Lindsay, Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) - The stray bullet that killed a 10-year-old girl this week brought flashbacks of a more violent time in this city, and vows from police that the unprecedented gang violence of the 1980s and 1990s won't return.

After the death of Trina Persad, neighborhood activists spoke with unease about Boston's increasing murder rate, as well as a troubling mix of newly released prisoners with the city's rising youth population.

At stake are gains made during an anti-crime initiative that became a national model in the 1990s.

"The degree of fear and insecurity is up," said the Rev. Ray Hammond, chairman of the Boston Ten Point Coalition, an anti-crime collaborative. "It brings up bad memories for most of us."

Persad was hit in the back of the head by a bullet fired Saturday during an apparent gang fight in the Grove Hall section of Roxbury. Persad was leaving Jermaine Goffigan Park, named for a 9-year-old boy killed in a gang shooting on Halloween night in 1994.

Persad died Monday night after her family stopped life support systems. No arrests have been made, and police have been frustrated by a lack of help from the public. On Tuesday, residents called for those with information to come forward.

Community involvement has been key to Boston's crime-fighting efforts, which have been copied nationwide.

In the 1980s, Boston averaged 92 murders annually and hit a high to 152 in the 1991 before murders fell precipitously. Between 1995 and 1996, murders dropped from 96 to 59, and by 1999 reached a low of 31.

The crime-fighting model, developed by the Dorchester-based Ten Point Coalition, unites religious, police and community leaders to give violent youths alternatives to gangs, such as mentoring programs and drop-in centers. The Dorchester program eventually went nationwide.

State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, who lived in Roxbury, said Boston's crime fighting success might have convinced some people that the tough work was done.

"I don't think there's any question that success lulled some people into complacency," she said. "This death is a jolting reminder that you don't stop."

In 2001, Boston saw 66 homicides in 2001 and is on the same pace this year. Police spokeswoman Mariellen Burns said demographic information foretold the recent rise in murders, and police have been preparing for it by giving greater attention to high-risk areas.

She said about 250 prisoners - some in prison since the police crackdown in the 1990s - are being released each month from the Suffolk County House of Correction. The juvenile population, historically among the most violent age groups, is up around the city, including about 15 percent in Grove Hall.

As the groups mix, Emmett Folgert of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative said a lucrative drug trade can feed gang activity.

"The old jacks are coming back and the new jacks are here," Folgert said. "Who's going to run the show?"

The difference between threats from gangs in Boston now and in the past is a unified stance against them, Folgert said.

"People weren't working together back then," Folgert said.

Hammond said today's homicides involve older men not involved in gangs more often than they did in the 1990s, so anti-gang measures that worked then won't necessarily be enough now. He called for more support programs for ex-cons.

One such program in existence sets up offenders with post-prison job opportunities, then calls for tight police monitoring if they refuse.

Mike Kozu of Project Right, a Grove Hall community group, said gang-prone youth need places to go and people for support; often they have neither, he said. Recent state budget cuts have hit crucial drug treatment and youth support services that are critical to ensure gangs don't grow, he added.

"Having a 10-year-old murdered, that's enough," Kozu said. "We can't let another person go through this."

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