A place in Boston called Grant Manor is a flash point in the new kind of gang violence that has shaken the city, miniature turf wars that have contributed to an alarming increase in the number of homicides this year and have left city officials, police, and community activists struggling to find a solution, the Boston Globe reports. Boston has recorded 55 killings in 2004, compared with 41 for all of 2003; police believe that about two thirds of the slayings related to gang activity. New gangs are springing up, populated by ever-younger members, some as young as 12, who are better armed and more likely to commit random, unpredictable acts of bloodshed. The collaboration of police and civic groups that in the past kept gangs in check and won Boston national fame has lost some of its urgency and effectiveness. The new gangs are small groups that have banded together for protection, with simple geography their most important unifier.
The Globe says many fights now occur over the ambiguous but deadly serious definition of “respect.” Some of the seemingly insignificant events that lead to violence — a lingering stare, a dance with someone else’s girlfriend, an offhand remark, an anonymous game of one-upmanship via cellphone or the Internet — are not a new phenomenon. Such squabbles are more likely to lead to bloodshed now. “It’s not normal for a kid 15 years old to walk up to another kid and blow his brains out,” said the Rev. William E. Dickerson II, a Dorchester pastor who works with gangs. “It’s demonic.” The homicide numbers do not approach the 152 murders in 1990, Boston’s worst year for gang violence. But the surge has prompted an outpouring of anger and fear in the neighborhoods, an urgent review of policies at City Hall and the State House, and questions from pulpits and police headquarters about how to stop the killing. One police official said the easier accessibility of handguns for younger and younger kids has created a charged atmosphere. “There’s tension in the streets,” he said. “You can feel it. There’s tension at roll call. You can feel it. Cops are apprehensive about going to work. Every five kids, there’s probably a gun. And we’re understaffed too.”