A week after a fatal youth shooting on Mission Hill, Sociedad Latina, the Tobin Community Center, and Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services hosted a community discussion on violence and the safety of the Mission Hill community.
The discussion on Dec. 11 at Tobin Community Center was well-attended by at least 100 people, including residents, police officers, elected officials and their teams, and representatives from a variety of local organizations. Many residents shared concerns that there aren’t enough resources for youths, and that there is a strong need for the police department to allocate a position to a street worker position.
The shooting on Dec. 6 that took place down the street from Tobin Community Center left one young man dead and two others injured. The young man has since been identified as 19-year-old Jose Montero.
District B-2 Police Captain Terry Thomas said that he believes the incident to be gang related. There were several police officers assigned to the area in front of the Tobin, and Thomas said that he understood that there was some confrontation between the individuals that were involved.
During the time of the incident, there was a charter school basketball game happening at Tobin Community Center. Around 200 youths were leaving the game during and in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
Thomas said that the police try to collect as much information as possible to keep “two steps ahead” of any crimes.
“We have limited resources, so we rely on information between the school police, the gang unit, the drug unit, and we have our street workers hit those hot spots,” Thomas said.
Thomas emphasized that the more information the police have, the better they can help prevent violence.
“Any information that you think would be helpful to us, probably is helpful,” Thomas said.
Jerry Pyrem, a youth community organizer at Sociedad Latina, asked the community to consider the realities that youth face every day on the streets.
“I think that we’re sitting here having this big conversation because the shooting happened in front of the Tobin. Shootings happen all over the city all the time, but conversations like these don’t. They happen when violence happens in the public place and the community is scared,” Pyrem said. “I know the kid that died, and I know a lot of kids that die in this neighborhood. When this happens in the projects, a funeral happens in a week and no conversation. But I still have to work, I still have to think about missing that person every single day, I still have to worry about my friends that come to this gym to play basketball and have to worry about getting home. Are we really asking the real questions, or are we just having a conversation that allows them to get back to work?”
Local state Sen Sonia Chang-Diaz remarked that coming together after a crisis had a “frustrating feeling of deja vu,” and said that she hoped to get from the meeting the “sense that we’re still here and not giving up.”
“I take the frustration and sadness from these meetings to push legislation through. There is very little that policy workers can do in the immediate term,” Chang-Diaz said. “The things I can do is push legislation through to prevent this five years from now. But I have to bring that pain and that fire to the hearts of legislators from other districts that don’t have this happen to their children.”
Chang-Diaz also recommended that residents contact legislators across the state to support a bill she is trying to get through the State House related to limiting the amount of guns that individuals can buy per year. She also urged residents to think about revenue policy in order for communities to have the resources to help prevent kids from picking up a gun in the first place. She stated support for the “millionaire’s tax,” which would provide funding for transportation and education, and opposed the potential ballot question about cutting out the sales tax.
Many residents felt that young people need more funding and resources, and others said that they need more support directly from other residents in the form of mentoring, friendliness, and support at local events.
Nikki Flannis of Mission Safe emphasized that youth need more resources.
“Mission Safe is the program that the boy who was killed the other day was coming to. He was a wonderful, funny, kind, sweet young man who was scared to death of what was going on in the street,” Flannis said. “It appears he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he had done great with us. He was doing GED, he was getting an internship, he was looking to get a job. Yes, these people are known to the police, but there’s a side you don’t see, which is just wonderful and waiting for their potential to be liberated.”
Terrence Williams, who grew up on Mission Hill, talked about the need to come together as a community and that more resources need to be donated to support community organizations.
“Some of these kids are asking you to help save their lives,” Williams said. “They might be looking and acting tough on the streets, but they’re scared about when the next bullet is going to come.”
John Jackson, administrator at Tobin Community Center, reflected on how amazing the basketball game was before the shooting, and emphasized direct community support.
“Don’t just donate, come see what’s going on here in the Tobin,” he said
A resident of Alice Taylor housing development shared a story about how her daughter was driving through the neighborhood and her car was hit by seven bullets. She expressed frustration that the meeting seemed focused on Tobin Community Center.
“I came to this meting looking for answers, because I haven’t gotten any yet. I look around this room, and I don’t see anyone from Alice Taylor. I asked [my neighbors at Alice Taylor] to come and they said no, it’s about Tobin, it’s about the Hill, they don’t care about us. I look around the room and think: they’re absolutely right,” she said.
Commissioner of Boston Center for Youth and Families (BCYF) William Morales spoke about the value of youth development, the need for the community discussion, and the collaboration to facilitate that development.
“I wish we could say we were coming together under better circumstances, but we’re not,” Morales said. “For over 45 years, BCYF has been a place for young people to go, but especially a place where they can grow. It’s gotten to a point where we need a discussion about what roles people in the community can play in helping us bring those disengaged kids into our spaces and minimize any more impact on any more families. When one life is gone, it’s gone forever.”
Mission Hill City Councilor Josh Zakim remarked that it is important for a community to come together after an incident.
“It’s so important for a community to come together to find solutions instead of casting blame,” Zakim said.
Boston Trauma Response and Recovery Initiative, managed by Boston Public Health Commission, is made up of neighborhood teams, which include a community health area and a community-based organization. For Roxbury, the lead agency is the Whittier Street Health Center, with Madison Park Community Development Corporation as the community partner. The teams from Roxbury and Jamaica Plain were in attendance at the meeting, and offer immediate individual and family support and ongoing access to trauma treatment.
“It becomes a problem when the exposure to traumatic events overwhelms your ability to cope, to get enough sleep,” said Mark Scott, of the Boston Health Commission. “It affects your appetite, it makes you irritable, it affects your ability to learn and work. When these things start happening, there are things you can do.”
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"It’s going to be a game changer," Chang-Díaz said. "I know it's going to take time for the MCAD to fill the staffing shortages that they've been experiencing in recent years, but this is a huge step forward."