Partnerships may be antidote to gangs, violence
"Since the Shannon grants started in 2006 we've seen homicides drop in the city of Boston about 16 percent," Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said at a grant award ceremony at the State House on Tuesday. He said, "Those numbers couldn't go down by the police alone. They come with a great partnership."
The nature of street gangs varies in different cities, according to people with knowledge of gang activity in two different parts of the state.
Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, said Boston's gangs are "local, even hyperlocal," based around a neighborhood or specific block, as opposed to local chapters of big national gangs.
Mike Kane, who has studied Fall River gangs for Community Resources for Justice for about 10 years, said the Spindle City's three main gangs are the well-known national gangs the Bloods and the Crips, as well as the Asian Boyz - which he said is not exclusively made up of people of Asian ethnicity.
Fall River gangs are "kind of loosely structured," appear to have begun recruiting people as young as 10, and appear to have grown more territorial, Kane told the News Service. For some, gang membership is familial - an uncle or other elder may have been a member - while for others, Kane said, it is about "just wanting to belong and not having a lot of support at home, and really not seeing a lot of opportunity."
Jamel Bonilla, a 23-year-old who lives in Lawrence and previously lived in Lowell, said boredom made gangs alluring.
"There's always like things that drag you in, like the gangs pull you in," Bonilla said. He said, "You just get bored, and you hang out with one group of people and you consider them your family. Now you're really their family. That's how it happens."
Bonilla said he put his life on a better track through UTEC, a Lowell-based group that aims to help at-risk young people "trade violence and poverty for social and economic success."
Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said the Shannon Grants are helpful because they encourage partnerships across city lines and cooperation between law enforcement and other organizations.
Wark said that in Boston, one of the main challenges is "interrupting" the cycle of gang retaliation through a combination of positive programming in the community and prosecution to "identify and isolate the small number of bad actors who drive a disproportionate share of the violence."
The grants are named after the late Sen. Charles Shannon, a former police officer.
"He was somebody who everybody could work with," Gov. Charlie Baker said at the ceremony.
Boston received $1.1 million through the grants, while Lowell received about $532,000 and Fall River received about $384,000. The grant awards were made to 15 communities and 11 "research partners."
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