By Yukun Zhang
BU News Service
BOSTON – Ameen Lacy was 17 when he was shot in a crowd of hundreds after a high school basketball game last December. He died two days later.
“Ameen was an energetic, scholarly-type athlete and artist. [He] cared a lot about his family,” said James Hills, a community activist and a friend of Lacy’s mother.
Hills said there were no “definitive answers” from the police about what happened in the Mission Hill shooting, which left Lacy and 19-year-old Jose Montero dead and another young man injured.
Hills noted there had been an uptick in the number of shootings in the city, which concerned him.
“I just don’t want our community to become desensitized,” Hills said. “Young people are dying at an alarming rate.”
Lacy was one of 14 homicide victims under the age of 20 in Boston last year alone. The total number of homicide victims in 2017 was 57. In 2016, 7 out of 50 homicide victims were teens.
Jake Wark, press secretary of Suffolk County district attorney’s office, wrote in an email that it is difficult to find an all-encompassing explanation for the rise in teen homicides last year, but the cases all had something to do with young people’s access to guns.
“In that respect, it’s urgent that we maintain the strong gun laws that keep Massachusetts rate of gun deaths at the lowest in the country and continue to press for federal legislation that would help keep out-of-state crime guns from entering Massachusetts,” Wark wrote.
Hills expressed concern regarding the law enforcement’s lack of connection with people in the community.
“More police is not the remedy,” he said. “It’s not that we want the blue and white constantly rolling around. Let’s take a deep dive into what is real — community police [that engage] with young people.”
Hills said public officials need to acknowledge the problem of violence in Boston and devote more funds to supporting young people and preventing them from committing crimes. Preventative efforts include understanding the psychological pressure of young people and helping them find jobs.
Milton Jones, director of operations of Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, an organization providing support for families impacted by murder, said the city was not doing enough regarding gun-control.
“Every time there’s a shooting, the police say there’s too many guns in the community,” Jones said, “but they are not doing everything they can do to get the guns in the city.”
The Peace Institute director stated there was no way of explaining the rise in the number of teens killed but the spike in the murder rate could be connected to formal offenders being released.
“You could have 30 guys [from the same area] coming out of prison at the same month … They [could] come back to the same community with the same beef, and they still have the same enemies,” explained Jones. “A witness could be the next victim.”
Jones likened prisons to warehouses, saying the prison system cannot prevent offenders from committing more violent crimes after they are released, owing to the lack of treatment within.
“They incarcerate too many people but they do very little to help the people while they are incarcerated,” Jones said. “Prisons should become institutions of learning and treatment but they are punishment and that’s backward.”
Jones said the perpetrators were “victims of bad politics, schools and upbringing,” and should be treated more like patients.
The Juvenile Alternative Resolution Pilot Program, launched in February 2017 by Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, was the city’s solution to young offenders. The program enables juveniles accused of moderate or serious offenses to drop their criminal charges after they complete the program, which provides services such as mental health treatment, counseling, employment and education.
“About 50 teens have completed the program so far and not one of them has reoffended,” Wark wrote. “We believe that’s a successful rate and we’ve applied for a grant that would allow us to expand the program to serve even more at-risk youth this year.”