The Fire That No One Talks About… For Very Long, At Least

By Phineas J. Stone

Few really are paying much attention, but this city has been on fire over the past few weeks.

The chaos in some of the city’s neighborhoods is at an absolute tipping point. There have been about 10 shootings since last Friday, three dead by my count – most young people.

Naturally, these things aren’t taking place for the most part in our neighborhoods; they’re further out from the downtown districts. And while one of the murders was just down the street from the South End in the Ruggles area, so much of it feels like a world away. It’s like we walk in two alternate universes.

Here are just a few from that alternate reality that leave you shaking your head.

  • A 15-year-old shot up the lobby of the Boston Public Schools headquarters in February.
  • In January, just across the street from the South End and Fenway, in Mission Hill, a 9-year-old girl was paralyzed when she was shot in the back while playing on her front stoop.
  • Just this month a 5-year-old was shot and wounded in Dudley Square, with the perpetrators allegedly shooting for his father and hitting him instead.
  • In similar circumstances, last fall a 2-year-old was shot and wounded in the Dudley Square area while sitting in a car seat inside a vehicle.
  • Lest we not forget the teen-ager shot and killed in front of hundreds of people less than a year ago during a fire drill outside the front door of his high school.
  • Last summer, gunfire between the Lenox and Cathedral Housing Developments right outside many of our doorsteps was far more common than many would want to believe.

Many cringe, but for the most part we move on safely and aren’t too tuned in to the killing fields just beyond our neighborhood boundaries. Hate me for saying it, but I have to agree President Donald Trump has a point about the security in our most vulnerable zip codes – even here in Boston where we enjoy relative safety unlike places like Chicago.

It wasn’t all that long ago, however, that some of our areas that have transformed into nice, safe neighborhoods were dead zones just like the ones we read about now that seem so far away.

Too many times I can remember the crime scene drill.

Shots ring out, stealing the peace of a summer day. Police arrive and set up a perimeter. Sirens and speeding cruisers go up and down the cross streets. An ambulance rushes the wounded away.

It becomes surreal and then the TV cameras and photographers would show up.

If it were serious, a downtown detective from headquarters – which was in the Back Bay in those days – would saunter over to conduct interviews. They always were pushy and never wanted to identify themselves, clomping up the steps and demanding your name – shining flashlights in your face and scaring the children and old people.

I can remember feeling like it didn’t have much to do with me – all the action just outside on the street. So close, but a world away from my mindset.

Incomprehensible, really, but these things will suck you in like like a car salesman.

Soon enough, neighbors are pulled in, and this is where our system makes the world a lot smaller really quick. Everyone wants to help those homicide detectives, and cooperate with the police to the hilt, but they’re going to want your name.

I can recall in days much less safer than now when I gave my name, proud to tell them what I saw.

Soon enough the District Attorney was calling, though, with vague threats about testifying, giving signed statements, doing what’s right for the community. They wanted to list my address and phone number in the public file.

One moment you’re having iced tea on the back porch, enjoying a summer day, and how quickly that can turn into you on the witness stand staring down a gang-banger and his friends who are now well aware of what you look like and where you live. Kids who shoot kids in the street don’t particularly play by a rule book like the old time wise guys did. They just react, and when you might be their target, life in the corner coffee shop is a much more uneasy existence.

This is just one selfish reason why we should all pay much greater attention to all of the wild west behavior around us.

Ignore it if you want, but some day you might find yourself right in the middle of it.

And believe me, there’s no way out of that mess, and you are agonizingly on your own once it’s all done.

Mr. Boston can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].


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