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Boston Crime: Homicides Are Down, But Do We Care?

When it comes to crime and personal safety, what we perceive to be true differs from the reality. But, really, does it even matter?

Is crime getting worse in Boston?

This weekend, some of the hundreds of teens hanging out at Carson Beach in South Boston ended up in a “gang fight.” Just last week, there were shots fired mid-day in the South End. And, last weekend, Boston police say the owner of a restaurant in Charlestown was during a fight with a local teenager.

So, the logical answer to the question would seem to be, “Yes.”

Makes perfect sense, no? In a bad economy, we’d naturally see an increase in crime, right? When people don’t have jobs (meaning, money), what other choices do they have but to hold up banks and rob people? And, people who are already at the edge end up snapping, leading to fights, stabbings, murders, and rapes.

But, the actual answer is, “No.” Nationally, major crime is at a historic low, in fact, and getting lower all the time. This includes homicides, rapes, aggravated assaults, robberies, burglaries and motor vehicle thefts. (The Wall Street Journal ran a great column over the weekend, Hard Times, Fewer Crimes, which explores possible reasons.)

This same phenomenon has occurred here in Boston.

Homicides at lowest level in at least 20 years

The following are the number of murders committed in the city of Boston during each of the past 20 years. Source: FBI, Uniform Crime Reports

Year # of homicides 1990 143 1991 113 1992 73 1993 98 1994 85 1995 96 1996 59 1997 43 1998 34 1999 31 2000 39 2001 65 2002 60 2003 39 2004 61 2005 73 2006 75 2007 65 2008 62 2009 50 2010 73

After peaking in 1990, homicides in the city have decreased during the past 20 years by almost 50 percent.

It’s true, as reported in a recent article, that there was an by almost 50 percent between 2009 and 2010, but that increase may have been an anomaly.

Although there was a spike in 2010, the number of murders this year has dropped by half, again. The Boston Police Department just released January 1 - May 31, 2011 crime data and it shows 12 murders so far this year compared to 27 murders last year. Rapes, aggravated assaults, and property crimes are also down. (Exceptions: rapes are up in Area B - Mattapan and North Dorchester - and burglaries have jumped in Area D4 - Back Bay / South End / The Fenway.)

But, do facts matter?

To you and me, facts don’t matter when bad things are happening in our own neighborhoods. It’s cold comfort to hear about dropping crime rates if you take the subway from Savin Hill and just witnessed a fatal shooting, or if you enjoy walking through your neighborhood and read about a stabbing on Main Street. I don't want to hear that major crime is lower overall after I see Boston police officers searching for spent shell casings from a "high-capacity firearm."

I had a flashback when I heard about the last week’s shots fired on West Dedham Street. During the summer of 1992, I lived on Blackstone Square, in the South End. There was a murder committed a block away, in the O’Day Playground, a shooting into a crowd of families out enjoying themselves. It was a shocking and disturbing event. Today, 19 years later, I still avoid that block and tell everyone I know to, as well.

Memories die hard

During the weeks, months, and years we enjoy the relative peace and quiet of city living. When incidents such as this happen, it breaks us out of our sense of complacency, because of the effect on our feelings of safety and security.

If it happens once, most of us pause, and then move on. Twice or three times, we are called to action - talking to our friends about crime, maybe getting involved in a watch group or attending community meetings.

More often than that, and we will all begin fearing for the future of our neighborhoods.

Rayleen Gaudet Nunez June 02, 2011 at 04:23 PM
Homicides may be down, but crime isn't. People are still getting shot and stabbed or threatened. Robberies still occur. Drugs from rich cartes and buyers still enter our neighborhood where they are sold by poor and uneducated people. People the system has failed. groceries are getting so high, some pay for them with their credit card, and some simply run out of money and may shoplift. Jobs are fewer and pay is less. John, you refer to a shooting in O'Day playground. The young man who was shot, Jorge Ramos, was like one of my kids. On that day, he was playing a game of basket ball. When he was shot, he was jumping to get a ball in the hoop. The motion made the bullet go upward directly from his hip into his heart. He was due to have a kidney operation the following week. He was kind, funny and a natural leader, but still a kid. To this day, no one believes he was the target of the shooting. Two other people were also shot, a young woman was shot in the back with a bullet close to her spine. It took more than six months before they could remove the bullet Anothe ran home when he heard the shots, not knowing he was shot. so the bullets moved and he became a quadriplegic. He later died from the injuries to his spine and multiple surgeries. He would have made a great husband and father.Both of them were sitting on a park bench, just talking.
Rayleen Gaudet Nunez June 02, 2011 at 04:40 PM
It was horrible. It was senselss. But in the statistics, I'm sure Raytone Walker was never listed as a homicide victim, though indeed he was. And many otheres who are shot or stabbed but dont die immediately are ever counted. Statistics can be made to say things that are not necessarily true. I lived directly in back or O'Day playground. Joge ran to come to my house and died with his head cradled in my 13 year od daughter's lap.That incident, and others are indicative of much deeper socio-economic problems. I relects the racism and classism in our society. It reflects how our country's leaders can rob the earth until its ecologoical changes are so great, one island in the South Pacific, a nation unto itself, no loger exists, leaving its people without a home. They drain the earth of oil and now that that is becoming unacceptable, they want to get coal by strip mining in the Arctic, ruining yet anoauter peaice of earth, killing animals and their food sosurces. They make cuts in the budget, over-funding the Department of Defense that is fighting a useless war in Afghanistan, and looking forward to march through the rest of the Mid-east and North Africa If urban kids had the quality education available to children from Newton, Wellesly and Concord., they would not be out in the streets as teens or adults. If there were supportive services for young moms to continue their education and to have child care, children would grow up in communities that valued them.
Rayleen Gaudet Nunez June 02, 2011 at 04:48 PM
it would take volumes towrite and the minds of people much greater than me to resolve all of our problems but I firmly believe that violnce begins within each one of us and ending violence also ends there. At an individual level we much watch our words and actions so that they are not hurtful or harmful to others. If you are a victim of domestic violence, get out of the situation. Remember your children are watching you. If you are drinking or have any other vice, do it away from your children. Your actions will teach them who they are to become. And to slove the bigger problems, get ivolved in your community and fight for issues of importance to you, at the local, sttate , national and international level. Change begins when each of us joins with others to demand that change, until there are so many of us, those in power start worrying whether they might lose some. Nothing is won without a struggle Sorry, I wrote so much, but I can't let victims be blamed or statistics be used to make people believe what is not true. Your neighbor, Rayleen Gaudet Nunez Author of three pages
John Keith June 07, 2011 at 01:26 AM
Rayleen, thank you for sharing your comments. You said so many things that make sense and need to be said! Like you, I haven't forgotten about any of the senseless crime and violence in our neighborhoods. One person lost to murder is one too many. All the best. John

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