Boston mayoral candidates John Connolly and Marty Walsh have spent the past few days sharpening their messages- from campaign spending to pay raises for police. WGBH News' continuing coverage of the 2013 Boston mayoral race will focus on a different theme each week- the first being public safety.
Kim Odom’s 13-year-old son, Steven, was murdered in 2007. He had just finished playing basketball and was walking to his house in Dorchester when he was shot.
He left behind a black and white marbled composition notebook – a peace journal from middle school – that his mom carries with her.
“He wrote it’s a shame somebody gets killed or shot everyday," Odom said of her son. "That’s why we really seriously need peace. And I agree with Steven. Shame on the adults who watch.”
These are the voices and the concerns that Marty Walsh faces on the campaign trail and would face even more if elected mayor.
Walsh said combating street violence is a priority for him.
"We need to move forward now as far as trying to get to the root of problems. And the root of the problem in a lot of the cases is poverty. And lack of opportunity. And we need to fix poverty and get more opportunity for folks."
A Boston Foundation report shows that about 80 percent of violent crimes in the city of Boston take place in Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan. Jorge Martinez, the executive director of Grove Hall nonprofit Project R.I.G.H.T., said he’s concerned about gang violence.
“What we’ve seen is that there is violence going back and forth with gangs from Jamaica Plain, South End, Grove Hall, Bowdoin Street, Mattapan and folks are going across neighborhoods," Martinez said. "And one of the largest concerns is they’re just doing random shootings. Young people, old people, it doesn’t matter.”
Walsh is pledging to take guns off the streets.
“One of the things that I proposed in my campaign is to talk to our neighbors in the North, in New Hampshire to see if they could strengthen our gun laws because a lot of the guns in Boston right now are falling down from New Hampshire.”
Massachusetts has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, but guns continue to pour in from neighboring states with more lax gun laws. More than 65 percent of guns traced to crime in Massachusetts come from out of state, according to the Boston Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The incoming mayor will also have to deal with the strained relationship between Boston police officers and residents of high crime communities of color.
Jamarhl Crawford is the editor of the Blackstonian, an online newspaper aimed at the black community. He said the Boston Marathon explosions, which happened in a predominantly white area, and the July murder of Amy Lord, a 24-year-old white woman in South Boston, has garnered a lot more attention than the all-too routine shootings and murders in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan.
“Many people felt the same way, basically they don’t care about us. Something happens to them, it’s a big deal. The wheels of the world stop. Something happens to us, it’s just kinda like, you people better deal with it. You people did it to yourself,” Crawford said.
Crawford keeps an updated tally on his website of the number of shootings since the Boston marathon. At press time it was at 141.
Walsh said diversifying the upper ranks of the Boston police department will help with the us them mentality.
“I think one of things we’re going to do is the upper echelon of my police department is going to be diversified. And as we look for new recruits for police, we’re going to make sure we work through the community, so young people in the city – in Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park, areas like that – that they take the police test, that they have opportunities to get on the police force and continue to diversify the police force.”
Outgoing Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis has been criticized for not promoting enough people of color. He leaves a department with white males occupying all 21 captain positions and 42 of the 48 lieutenants.
Activist Jorge Martinez said whoever succeeds Davis will need to make sure there are more officers of color:
“I’m not saying if you’re working in the Cape Verdian community you need all Cape Verdian cops, or if you’re working Puerto Rican community, you need all Puerto Ricans. But its always easier with someone from your own background, culture, religion, whatever…its always easier to have a conversation with someone like that.”
Walsh has more ideas of how to improve public safety on his website from stepping up community policing to sending more people to treatment instead of prison, to working with community groups to fight gang violence.
But Walsh said in the long run nothing is as effective as education.
“I think one of the big things we have to do long term strategy is keep our kids in school. I think we have a high number of dropouts that drop out of high school, and when they drop out of high school they end up on the street, and when they drop out of high school, they have no place to turn.”
Walsh said too often people read about a murder in the newspaper and turn the page. He’s said its time to stop turning the page and address the issues … in the memory of 13-year-old Steven Odom and others like him.