Tonight I launched the mostly complete version of a website I have been designing for my Information Design class to visualize the findings of the 20 Year Homicide Report by Darrin Howell, A resource made publicly available through Blackstonian.com. This report breaks down the 1,465 murders that took place in the city of Boston between 1988 and 2008 by district, victim age, month etc. Check it out here: blackstonian.com/20yearhomicidereport.
It is sobering to think that in the time I have been alive, more than 1,500 people have been murdered in my city. I’ve been looking at these stats for the past month, presenting them and representing them, trying to make myself remember they are people and not numbers.
I guess I was most shocked at how unsurprised I was by the data when I really saw it. Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan all have triple digit numbers for their district, while the other 9 districts in the city never exceed 40 in the same time frame. Across the board, most of the victims are between the ages of 14 and 25, killed by a “GSW” (gun shot wound). In the districts with the highest numbers of murders, there are the least number solved proportionally. Overall, less than 10% of murders result in a conviction, with the majority never even resulting in an arrest.
And yet we continue to spend more on an ever increasing and clearly ineffective police presence, spend less on addressing the issue of poverty, youth jobs, high-school dropout rates and the “achievement gap,” community, youth and social programs designed to encourage alternatives to violence etc. We need to stop trying to address violence as the issue and address the root causes. Why is it that the path of least resistance for a youth from one of Boston’s “hot spots” leads into the waiting arms of the prison system, be it for gun drug or gang charges? Why is it that for some, crack and 9mm are more readily available and attainable than a minimum wage job (let alone a living wage job) or a degree or diploma? Clearly we are not serving entire segments of our city, and as always it is no surprise who gets the short end of the stick and winds up paying the price.
Last week, when a gun and knife fight erupted in a pizza place up the street from my house, it received national news coverage. That’s because this incident, in which 3 people lost their lives, happened on Centre St., in the affluent gentrified end of the Jamaica Plain. But walk less than a mile towards Egleston Square and the border with Roxbury, and events like this are almost expected – routine. I love my city, but we have some serious divisions we need to address. As this years homicide rate climbs into the 70’s and the official response is more police presence, a few more street workers, massive cuts for all sorts of social programs and continued support for ineffective yet connected organizations, I’d say we still have long ways to go. Hopefully it won’t take 1,465 more lives to see that.