Religious leaders and advocates for minority communities called on Gov. Deval Patrick Thursday to reject any redistricting maps that fail to “amplify” the voice of black, Latino and Asian residents of Massachusetts, arguing that they have long been underrepresented in Congress and in the state Legislature.
Through prayers and pointed pleas, members of the Boston clergy – including Rev. William Dickerson and Rev. Jeffrey Brown – joined former Green Rainbow candidate for governor Jill Stein, Rep. Denise Andrews (D-Orange) and redistricting activist Kevin Peterson to demand “fairness” and “justice” for minorities as lawmakers redraw political boundaries.
“I believe, and I am praying, that the plans that come out are going to be fair and equitable,” said Tito Jackson, a member of the Boston City Council.
Participants in the “faith-based event” stood in front of the Robert Shaw Civil War Memorial and pointed collectively at the State House to emphasize at whom their message was aimed.
Members of the Legislature’s Redistricting Committee are eyeing an October release of a proposal to redraw the state’s Congressional and state legislative districts, a task complicated by the loss of one of the state’s 10 Congressional seats due to national population shifts. The committee has held more than a dozen hearings around the state this year to gather feedback on potential district boundaries.
When Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament yesterday he would turn to Boston for lessons in quelling angry riots in London, he caused some head-scratching on this side of the pond.
Was he referring to the Boston Miracle of nearly 15 years ago? Or to the peaceful celebration that followed the Bruins’ triumph this summer while angry fans took to the streets in Vancouver? Is any recent Boston unrest comparable to the London riots, where disenfranchised youths have seized on concerns about police violence to launch mayhem, burning storefronts and stealing flat-screen TVs?
Those involved in Boston’s celebrated 1990s anticrime program were unsurprised, saying the London uprising points to a civil breakdown that demands a new strategy for community policing.
“Violence is deeply rooted in how people feel like they’ve been denied in society. It’s more than just criminality,’’ said the Rev. Jeffrey Brown, executive director of the Ten Point Coalition, a faith-based community group that works with young people and that partnered with government and law enforcement officials to reduce violence in Boston.
We now have data confirming what objective and open-minded observers already knew: that religious commitment and faith-based approaches, as well as the transformative power of faith itself, can be central in reducing crime. We also know that intentional partnerships between communities of faith and law enforcement can lead to dramatic improvement in police-community relations and subsequent reductions in youth violence and gang activity.
The story of what would eventually be called the “Boston Miracle” symbolizes what can happen when concerned congregations and clergy unite to forge long-term and reciprocal partnerships with police and other public agencies in addressing youth violence. In 1990, after youth homicides had hit an all-time high in the greater Boston area, a group of African-American ministers partnered with government agencies and other community-based groups to respond to the violence and gang activity. Youth homicides not only decreased, but for some 18 months, there were no youth homicides in Boston.
Today, more than a decade later, this partnership remains strong and active. Rev. Jeffrey Brown, one of the early leaders of this collaboration, left his role as pastor to pursue this cause full-time. He is now the executive director of the Boston TenPoint Coalition, whose mission is to mobilize the community on behalf of a primarily African-American and Latino population at high risk for violence, drug abuse, and other destructive behavior.
At the height of the national youth gun violence epidemic in 1996, the city of Boston became famous for implementing a strategy that was given credit by many for reducing the youth homicide rate to zero, and keeping it there for several years. The strategy was called Operation Cease Fire and was coordinated by a working group consisting of representatives from the Boston Police Department, Probation, the District Attorney and U.S. Attorney’s office, many other criminal justice agencies, social service agencies, ministers from neighborhood churches (known as the TenPoint Coalition) and researchers from the Kennedy School of Government. The key elements of Cease Fire included:
- Regular working group meetings that were used to analyze data on gang violence and develop plans for reducing it;
- Announcements and publicizing of the Cease Fire, and plans to enforce it;
- Enhanced enforcement by all agencies against gangs found to have violated the Cease Fire;
- Mobilization of community support for the strategy, particularly by the TenPoint Coalition, that regularly walked the neighborhoods;