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As Different as Night and Day


By Michel D. Mcqueen

IN THE PAST month and a half, six young black women have been found murdered near their homes in the Roxbury and South End areas. Four of the women, Christine Ricketts, age 15, Andrea Foye, age 17, Gwendoyln Yvette Stinson, age 15, and Caren Prater, age 25, were found within eight days of each other. At first, the murders received little attention from the media and the police. Gwen Stinson's mother notified local police when she became aware of her daughter's uncharacteristic absence. When they failed to respond to her plea for assistance, Mrs. Stinson contacted as many newspapers and radio stations as she could and urged them to broadcast descriptions of her missing daughter. Only The Boston Globe and WBZN radio agreed to her request. Upon learning of the death of the third woman, Mrs. Stinson led a protest to the mayor's office.

When news of the fourth murder broke, the black community reacted. State Senator Bill Owens and the mothers of the four victims demanded a public meeting with Mayor Kevin White, who hastily arranged a conference at the Bates School in Dorchester. At the meeting, which was reported on page five of the Boston Herald American and page 15 of The Boston Globe, the Mayor insisted that "community participation" was the answer to the problem of violence in the black neighborhoods, and "not necessarily" increased police protection which was the solution had demanded.

THIS EPISODE LIES in contrast to one which took place earlier in the month, in another neighborhood, after another series of crimes. Since Noverber 18, eight women in predominantly white Allston-Brighton have been victims of rape or attempted rape. Community residents there were also scared and angry. At a meeting attended by police representatives and community residents, which was reported on the front page of bothThe Globe and the Herald, Police Commissioner Jordan promised, "We're going to get this guy." District Attorney Flanagan promised, " fine, no probation, no suspended sentence...," and District 14 Detective Paul Rufo declared, "It's my problem. It's my community. It's my district. We want him as bad as you do."

Later in the meeting, after residents had been assured of the immediate assingment of extra plaincloths policemen to the area, representatives of Boston Edison promised to install extra lights around Commonwealth Avenue, where the majority of the attacks to place. Special workshops were arranged to teach the area's women self-defense techniques, and police whistles were furnished to all.

The Roxbury Dorchester meeting took place less than a week after the one in Allston-Brighton, and Roxbury citizens demanded the same sort of concrete action they had witnessed in response to the Brighton rapes. Instead they received vague promises and condescending treatment from the city. Police explained the differences in treatment in terms of the differences between the cases: in Brighton they suspected that one person per-petrated all the crimes, and in Roxbury, perhaps three or even four different suspects were being sought. Therefore, the police said, they didn't feel that stepped up police protection was necessarily the solution to the Roxbury problem. Though the logic of using fewer police to catch more criminals seems dubious at best, this is the very reasoning that guided the assignment of officers to the different cases.

While Boston has never been known for its sensitivity in racial matters, the city's parochialism is never more apparent than in its treatment of urban violence. The city is 19 per cent black and Hispanic, yet its 2,088 member police force is only 7.3 per cent black and Hispanic. Only one sergeant and two deputy sergeants are black. There are no Hispanic officers.

WHILE INCREASING NUMBERS of black and Hispanic police officers do not necessarily insure safer black and Hispanic neighborhoods, the lack of minority police makes residents feel further neglected by the city. In the assignment of police patrols, which are on the basis of the volume of complaints in the area, Roxbury receives the third highest priority, after the Fenway and South End.

More patrols had been assigned to the Dorchester and Roxbury areas at the beginning of the year, but, police say, these additions were made before the first killing was reported. Residents want more police, and they want more of them to come from the neighborhoods to which they will be ultimately assigned.

In Boston much of the average person's political power, employment and even identity is tied up in his neighborhood. Youth employment projects are developed neighborhood by neighborhood, and if a child does not receive a job assignment in his neighborhood, his parents are likely to keep him from working at all. When the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs organizes its free programs for the summer, it has to select its performers, concert managers, D.J.'s and even movie bus drivers on the basis of race or ethnic affiliation or resemblance: if it doesn't, it may expose its employees to stonings and attempted shootings. Blacks are even more vulnerable than whites in this regard because the black neighborhoods are more used to tolerating outsiders--parts of Roxbury are integrated. But the black person who stumbles into Charlestown or East Boston when tensions are high, can anticipate a reception ranging from the hostile to the murderous.

The apathetic response of the police, city officials, and media to the complaints of black residents are not without precedent. On February 7, the day the fourth black victim was discovered, scuffling and fighting between black and white students broke out in racially tense Hyde Park High School. The fight began in one room at 10:30 a.m. and quickly spread. Thirty minutes later, all the white students were evacuated by the police and school officials, while the black students were kept in class to "simmer down." Since Hyde Park High is 40 per cent white, black parents wondered why the white students were considered in greater danger, and hence told to leave first. Black students were not sent home until an hour and a half later.

City priorities were also called into question in July of this past summer, when a group of East Boston teenagers firebombed the home of a Guatemalan family at mid-day. On July 23, the family had been picnicking on the grounds of the East Boston project, where its apartment was located, when an argument began between one of the grandmothers and a white woman of comparable age who also lived in the area.

When the argument abated, the family members, few of whom speak English, packed their belongings and went home. Within a few hours an estimated 200 white teenagers surrounded the project and demanded that the family come out. Bricks and rocks were thrown at the apartment, one hitting the youngest baby. When the police were finally called, the family was taken to a nearby police station with the understanding that their property would be protected. In their absence, their apartment was firebombed with molotov cocktails that completely destroyed all of their possessions.

Later the family was taken to a hotel for the night, where they were left with no food or clothing. Nobody bothered to tell them what would happen next. The home of a nearby relative was stoned later in the week when the family moved in with her. Police found ten suspects, all of whom were charged with vandalism, a misdemeanor. This story took up only one column on page three of The Globe, under the headline "Guatemalan Family Flees." The Boston Herald American didn't carry the story at all. After pressure from a state representative and a lawyer from the Civil Liberties Union, Mayor White issued a statement "deploring" violence and reminding protesters that "such incidents do not occur everyday."

But the fact that such incidents do occur with such frequency is only one indication of the city's lack of diligence and sensitivity in dealing with racial turmoil. Further, no real improvement can take place unless the Mayor makes racial issues a high priority in his administration.

UNTIL THEN, the management of police personnel should be a major tool in providing better protection against crime in minority communities. As Brighton Detective Rufo pointed out, since the rapes took place in his community, and his district, he wanted to see the violence stopped as much as anyone else. Roxbury, Dorchester and South End residents, are entitled to the same degree of diligence from their police officers. And they need more black and Hispanic police appointed and assigned to their neighborhoods.

But the assignment of more minority policemen cannot change the fundamental problems of race and ethnic relations in Boston--problems which are deeply rooted in the attitudes of politicians, the press, school officials, and the average person-on-the-street. In response to the black community's outcry over the handling of the murders, a Globe editorial urged the community to "pull together, and keep the pressure on" until solutions are found. Until Boston leadership learns to respect the rights of all its residents equally, however, lack of protection for inner city minorities will remain politics as usual.

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