Thursday, July 10, 2008


I stayed home from work yesterday. One might attribute this to the unexpected mid-March summer preview, with temps in the 70's, but I was actually sick. In fact, I still am.

My neighborhood, on the other hand, was not. It was hopping -- the frenetic, unmistakable excitement of first warm days. I lay in bed, gazing on the street below. My neighbors, four teenage brothers close in age, were playing football. As the sun alternated between clouds, a warm breeze gathered errant shouts and laughter, dandling them on open window sills. The older middle brother, visiting from Baltimore for a funeral, watched the oldest for the snap count as he lined up against the younger middle brother. "Hike," he yelled, and dropped back. Older middle pressed younger middle hard. Real hard. In fact, he should have been called for unnecessary roughness or pass interference. Something. Anything! But there was no flag -- they were brothers. As a smile from the non-call caused a momentary cessation of my illness, I pulled up the covers and thought to join them. I got to the play clothes in my bureau and stopped. No, I couldn't join them; I wouldn't join them. Not today. Their smiles were too blissful; their time together too precious. They would be burying their mom tomorrow. That was why they were here. That was why younger middle wasn't in school. They would cherish these precious minutes together; I wasn't about to get in the way. For a moment, if just for an instant, everything seemed right in the world as they laughed and played together.

Eventually, they stopped playing and carried on down the street. An eerie calm prevailed. And then, not more that an hour later, gunshots in the distance. POP POP POP POP. I lost count after three or four -- the distant noise was distorted in the breeze and caused me to second-guess what I heard. "No way," I thought, "It must be a nail gun or something." There was a lot of construction and, "Sometimes construction sites pop like guns," I assured myself. "It's much too peaceful today for people to be shooting each other." A cacophony of converging sirens refuted my ill-conceived logic. Before long, the neighborhood flooded with police.

The brothers, who would be burying, after a tragic drug overdose, their 39-year-old mother the following day, had another tragedy to contend with. An 18-year-old friend of theirs had been shot twice in the neck and once in the nose. He was rushed to the hospital. As the brothers, and the whole neighborhood, waited anxiously for word on his condition, another 18-year-old, shot across town in Roxbury, died from his injuries at Boston Medical Center -- a place that on warm days can seem more like a war zone than a civilian medical facility.

So far, miraculously, their friend is still alive. We continue to pray for him. We ask that you do too.

It is hard not to wonder why these youth should have hope. What do they have to hope for? All they might have asked for was one day of peace. One day of calm before they would bury their mother. Just one warm day to enjoy that too much to ask for?

Alarmingly, these tragedies come as the governor announces a budget that cuts, yes cuts, antigang funding. When we talk about what our kids have to hope for, I should add that people in the state's most violent neighborhoods breathed a collective sigh of relief when Governor Patrick was elected. We all thought he got it. He promised during his campaign to make Massachusetts a leader in early violence prevention because he knew that more police addressed the problem of violence only after it was too late. We thought he would be the one that would change a status quo that spends everything on prisons and prosecutions and scarcely anything on prevention. In light of news that he is redirecting antigang funding to hire more police -- a move that is entirely contrary to everything he claimed to understand about youth violence prevention -- it appears that we may have been wrong. And this breaks my heart.

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