Thursday, March 29, 2007

Marching for Peace and Justice

One victim was the “beauty” who was shot outside an after-hours party on Geneva Avenue. The other was the “coed” who was shot less than two weeks earlier, on a Friday afternoon on Olney Street, near the Holland Elementary School. The plan was to go from the scene of one killing to the other, in what organizers referred to as a march for peace—and for justice. And one way of calling for justice was to make a point: the coed, Quintessa Blackwell, was just as important as the 23 year-old “beauty” from out of town, Chiara Levin, whose killing prompted the intervention of the out-of-town volunteer crime-fighters, the Guardian Angels. “Quintessa was beautiful, too,” community activist Joao DePina told about fifty marchers as they stopped between locations on Geneva Avenue. And she was beautiful, he said, because all God’s children were beautiful.

It was Quintessa Blackwell’s face that was on the badges worn by marchers, on tee-shirts, and on the “peace flyers” passed around by her older sister, Gin-Gin. Just as she instructed, the flyers were posted along the march route. Like the march itself, they were a message from the neighborhood to the neighborhood, coinciding with what would have been Quintessa Blackwell’s 19th birthday.

As the marchers went from Olney Street to Geneva Avenue, there were several messages. These included a demand for a meeting with Mayor Menino and a call to “Start snitching.” More quietly, those who know the neighborhood say getting people to talk, even with the pressure of a grand jury subpoena, puts them at risk of retaliation. So the mother of two sons who were murdered, Isaura Mendes, had a message and an observation. The message: “The mayor can’t do it alone, the police can’t do it alone—we can’t do it alone. We have to do it together.” Later, the observation: “Our children talk, sometimes they get hurt.”

When the march reached the house near the shooting on Geneva Avenue, City Councilor Charles Yancey, also had a message. “The problem is not the police, and the problem is not the mayor,” he said. “There are far too many people in our community who have disrespect for life, and we must bring them to justice.”

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Three killings in Dorchester since late last November took place around house parties, between 3 and 6 in the morning. Some have been quick to point out that house parties had nothing to do with the shooting of Quintessa Blackwell or the 11 year-old student found with a loaded handgun in the Holland Elementary School. But others are concerned that violence at the parties will get worse: if people don’t avoid the parties out of fear, they’re even more likely to show up with a weapon. “I think these after-hours parties are hotbeds for potential violence,” said City Councilor Rob Consalvo. Two years ago, he was the sponsor of an ordinance that created fines for people connected with parties, whether as property owner, host, DJ, or the person taking money at the door. He calls the parties a “perfect storm for a disaster waiting to happen.”

State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Dorchester/Milton) says it would help if more people felt they could report the parties to police without fear of being detected. She says the special “party line” used in Area C-11 during the summer should be available year-round. For reporting parties, Consalvo advises as many as three steps: call 911 then, if necessary, the nighttime duty supervisor and, if the first two steps are not enough, call the station commander on Monday.