Wednesday, October 22, 2008

TROUBLE SLEEPING

3am.  Gunshots.  Again.  Laying in silence, I strain my ears.  Tires screech around a corner.  More shots.   A piercing " whoo hoooo!" rings out,  unnnaturally harsh in the cold quiet. I'm wide awake now.  "Maybe no one is on the other end," I think.  I hold my breath to hear.  I don't hear screaming.  Or wailing.   I feel far away from Boston.   In a different world from the cultural and historical sites, museums, bars, restaurants and other places where I go out with friends.  It is deathly still.  One minute.  Two.  Three minutes pass.  Finally, sirens in the distance, a reminder of how far behind shootings police are and unfortunately always will be.  How unfair it is to expect them to be everywhere at once.     

I start thinking about the CPCS training I am taking, and how I am being taught to get the guy that shoots the gun off on all charges and back on the street asap.  I think about how I am about to make a good living doing this.  

I think about my old life, where my job was to put the shooter in jail.  

I begin to marvel that one can make a living on both of these extreme sides, though they have not, are not, and will not improve communities like the one where I live.  If I want to be a prosecutor or a defense attorney, or a court officer or criminal clerk or probation officer, or a number of other jobs in the criminal justice system, I can make a good living.  Another story altogether, if I want to be a youth worker that meets young people before they pick up guns and end up in jail. 

And change is not near.  Many youth workers across the city are barely scraping by.  Many must work two jobs to survive.  All the while, the mayor and the two guys that will likely run against him next term, continue to push tougher gun laws and more police as if guns are the problem or more police will solve it.  I marvel that we have it backwards, and that I will just have to get used to gunshots waking me in the night.

This past spring, eight teenagers I work with went out into the Quincy Street neighborhood of Dorchester.  They created a petition expressing frustration that the lion's share of taxpayer money is spent on prisons and not programs that help kids.  It read: 

"We, the members of the Quincy Street Youth Group, present this petition, on behalf of the residents of the Quincy Street area, to the government officials responsible for the distribution of taxpayer money.  We are highly concerned that our government is spending billions of dollars to put people in jail and not spending money on needed preventions and interventions that will help kids before they are in trouble.  We present this petition because we want our elected officials to change this and we want to begin to support candidates that care about helping kids here as much as putting them in jail.  We hope to know what your plans are to change this."

Without exception, every single person they spoke with in the community enthusiastically agreed with the petition and encouraged the teens to keep going.  In just a couple of days over two weeks, they gathered over 200 signatures -- an incredible feat when you think about how hard it is to get passersby to talk to you when you are holding a clipboard these days.  

Yet somehow, this sentiment that literally everyone we talked to here agreed with is not registering downtown. Programs that are effectively reaching young men caught up in gang violence are shut down for lack of funding.  Youth workers on the front lines fight for scraps year after year, while there is no limit to the number of police officers we will hire.  Many youth workers must work two jobs to pay the bills, though the work they are doing is easily as -- if not more -- difficult and demanding.  

Though we sent the petition to our city councilor, mayor, state representative, state senator and governor, only our state representative, Marie St. Fleur, responded.  Somehow, despite the fact that the number of shooting victims under the age of 17 has tripled in the last five years, the issue isn't on the agenda.   

I think about a blog post I made almost two years ago, showing where someone, presumably a young person, wrote "RIP Skork" on a bench at Andrew Station.  I think about the bench above, in the same station recently, and how after all of this time nothing seems to be changing.

And I feel hurt.  Angry.  Frustrated.  And then, like everyone else in the city, except, perhaps, the mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, lying awake in fear, worrying about their sons or daughters growing up in places where gunshots wake them up at night, or fly past them during the day, I fall back to sleep.
 

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