Friday, November 21, 2008

Gun in School Update

A judge in West Roxbury District Court has set bail for Walter West, Jr. at $100,000 and revoked his open bail in connection with another case.

“The defendant had a cocked and loaded 9mm handgun inside a school,” said Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley. “With rounds in the chamber and the magazine, it presented an extremely dangerous situation in a building full of innocents.”

Also arraigned in connection with the disturbance yesterday morning at Boston English High School were two juveniles and two other 17 year-olds from Dorchester. The three older defendants will have to wear a global position monitoring system and observe an 8 p.m. curfew.

In a statement issued after the arraignment, Conley also said, “A case like this should be chilling to every parent and every person in the Commonwealth who cares for children’s safety, no matter where those children live or go to school.”

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Teen with Gun Arrested at Boston English

A teenager with a firearm was arrested this morning at Boston English High School in Jamaica Plain.

Seventeen year-old Walter West of Dorchester is being charged with unlawful possession of a gun and ammunition, unlawful possession of a gun on school property, resisting arrest and trespassing. Also arrested for trespassing were two other 17 year-olds from Dorchester, Damien Oliver and Tyrone Rutledge, along with two juveniles.

Boston Police say the arrests followed a disturbance at the school that was reported around 9 a.m. Authorities say Oliver was the only one of the teens arrested who is a student at Boston English.

According to police, one of the teens was “focused on and reaching for” a backpack that, as it turned out, contained a loaded firearm.

Prosecutors say it was Oliver who let the other teens into the school through a side door. The chief communications officer for the Boston School Dept., Christopher Horan, says the door can only be opened from the inside, and he says students who come in through the regular entrance are randomly searched for weapons with a metal detecting wand.

Once the intruders were in the building, said Horan, they were quickly recognized as trespassers.

“It certainly is troubling,” he said, “but we were all impressed how quickly and appropriately the school responded.”

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Creating New Hotspots for Voter Turnout

The following post was published as an article in the Dorchester Reporter.

There were only two people standing on the traffic island in middle of Blue Hill Avenue with an Obama-Biden sign, but the horns could be heard for several blocks around.

It was election day in Grove Hall.

Propping up the blue sign were the founder of the local radio station, TOUCH FM 106.1, Charles Clemons, and the executive director of the Grove Hall Neighborhood Development Corp., Sister Virginia Morrison. Each of them held the sign with one hand and waved at the traffic with the other. And whenever they waved, someone answered with a triumphant honk.

“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” Morrison exulted.

One reason to exult was the commanding vote for her candidate. Another was the increase in the Grove Hall vote count. In one of the areas near the same intersection, Ward 14, Precinct 1, the number of votes cast last Tuesday had risen over the figure for the 2000 presidential election—the last to fill a vacancy in the White House—by 66%. Since 1996, the presidential year count had increased by 80%.

What happened last week in Grove Hall was happening in several areas around the city where normal turnouts used to run lower than average. Most of these were areas where voters were predominantly people of color—from Asian-American in Chinatown to Latinos around Jamaica Plain’s Hyde Square, along parts of Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester dominated by African Americans and other immigrants, whether from Haiti, Vietnam, or Cape Verde.

“People were engaged in this election,” Mayor Thomas Menino told Neighborhood Network News, “and they wanted to make changes, but also they had a candidate they believed in. That’s why we had such a huge turnout in the City of Boston.”

While votes cast in this year’s election around the country had increased over November, 2004 by no more than 5%, the increase in Boston was slightly short of 15%.

Compared with the election in November, 2000, the number of people voting in Boston last Tuesday had increased by 17.75%--despite an increase in the number of eligible people who didn’t vote. There were more votes cast in almost every ward. But one area traditionally known for high totals—Ward 20 (West Roxbury and Roslindale)—had an increase of less than 6% over the figures for the last two presidential elections.

At the other end of the chart were neighborhoods with very sharp increases, such as Chinatown (Ward 3, Precinct 8), with almost 96% over the total for 2000, and Dorchester’s Ward 15 (Fields Corner/Bowdoin-Geneva/Meetinghouse Hill) at more than 58%. Close behind was Ward 14 (Grove Hall/Four Corners/Franklin Field/Wellington Hill), with an increase over 2000 by more than 57%. Compared with November, 2000, vote totals for Roxbury wards increased anywhere from 41% to as much as 72%.

Less dramatic increases in the same areas had been seen in other recent elections, especially the one in November, 2006, when Deval Patrick became the first person of color to be elected Governor of Massachusetts. Vote totals in the same parts of the city also showed a higher percentage gain in city elections for 2003 and 2005, though not for 2007.

“So we’re seeing an excitement around getting civically engaged that, to a large degree we lost,” the deputy director of MassVOTE, David Ortiz, said in an interview last week on Neighborhood Network News. “We’ve always talked about the possibility of trying to get a holiday to happen on election day, and I have to say that I think everyone would agree that it seemed as though this election was a holiday. People were celebrating like it was the Fourth of July.”

Among the neighborhoods where voters came out early in large numbers was Chinatown.

“People were lined up before 7 a.m. when the polls opened,” said the executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association, Lydia Lowe. “The line was out to the end of the street.” To accommodate elderly voters waiting in line, she added, community activists even provided chairs.

Lowe acknowledges that some of the neighborhood’s increase in voters results from new housing developments, with many newer non-Chinese residents from Chinatown proper and the adjoining Leather District.

But Lowe says the turnout has also been increased by voter workshops that drew “several hundred” residents, mainly Chinese-speaking. Under an agreement with the US Dept. of Justice, those voters could use ballots almost entirely in Chinese, except for the names of candidates. In the workshops, the candidates’ names were transliterated into Chinese characters.

Lowe says what’s gained in translation is that immigrant voters who have become US citizens feel more competent to decide elections.

“It’s a sense of empowerment,” she said. “Since Chinatown’s vote has increased over the past ten years, politicians pay attention to Chinatown.”

Novel grassroots campaigns without explicit connection to candidates were going on in other parts of the city as well. In Jamaica Plain, teens in the Hyde Square Task Force tried to reach voters through phone banks and house calls. The message was that a “No” vote on Question 1 (the proposed abolition of the state income tax) was a vote for their future.

Ortiz says that kind of community networking is a two-way street, channeling the community’s support for potential candidates, and the candidates’ support for needs in the community.

“These community-based organizations can now say they have a base—they have a base of voters—in the sense of a community-based organization,” he said. “They will try to use that base to get them involved in the issues, get them involved in services that they have, or try to get them to become volunteers.”

Between November, 2000 and last Tuesday, the number of people voting in one area around Hyde Square (Ward 10, Precinct 6) increased by almost 62%. Over the same period, the number of registered voters in the precinct had risen by 90%.

And Ortiz sees a parallel between turnout and registration campaigns in Boston and the widespread use of grassroots volunteers in campaign Obama’s campaign around the country.

“I think what candidates have done,” he said, “is they’ve learned from organizations like MassVOTE that, if you try an organic approach, more holistic approach, an approach that’s sort of led from the bottom-up, that folks want to get more involved, that there’s more motivation, and because of that, more participation. And I think that more candidates are starting to see that and starting to mimic that model.”

Among those candidates Ortiz includes two getting off to a head start on campaigns for City Councillor at Large—Felix G. Arroyo and Jean Claude Sanon.

Also taking note of the grassroots factor is Sam Yoon, a City Councillor at Large who’s reportedly raising money for a possible attempt at higher office.

“A lot of these groups penetrated parts of the community that are harder to reach for either (presidential) campaign,” said Yoon.

While there was little doubt who would carry the state for President, Yoon said areas with the largest increase in votes were drawn by the urge to support a candidate—and to participate.

“Obama inspired that,” said Yoon. “His message inspired that kind of participation—that feeling that everyone mattered, no matter what their race, creed, or community.”

And Yoon says that meant getting voters to think, not as isolated individuals acting only on self-interest, but as people connected to other people.

“This is important in a democracy,” he said, “that we feel that connectedness to each other.”

But last year’s election for City Council showed that voter participation can also sharply decrease. Because this was an off-year election, with no race for mayor, a relatively low turnout had been expected. As it happened, there were barely enough at-large candidates to require a preliminary September election throughout the city, and even fewer candidates with competitive campaigns.

When the City Council and Mayor Menino passed a special measure to skip the preliminary election for Council at-large, there was little opposition, even from grassroots organizations. When the single at-large election took place in November, the number of voters plummeted, in some areas below the levels for 1999. The turnout figure was 13.59%.

Yoon was quick to note that one difference between last year and this year was the change in candidates.

“Now that these folks have been engaged,” said Yoon, “it’s up to us to keep them engaged in the political process.”

And Ortiz says there should be a carry-over of newly-engaged voters in years ahead.

“I think what’s left over will come with the face of those that are 18 to 29, because they were the ones that really turned out this year,” said Ortiz. “What we saw was a younger generation of voters that we’ve never seen before, which is completely different from the past, when it was older folk that were actually going out to vote in large numbers.”


After the article was published, Sister Virgina Morrison conveyed some of her thoughts on the election:

Yes, there was an organized effort to get out the vote and then there was the community utilizing every person, place, or thing to inform our community about the power and significance of their vote. There also was a sense of pride. Many saw hope. President-elect Obama and the soon-to-be 1st lady of these United States represent a sense of family and morality that has been lost. Two very educated, bright, and articulate husband and wife from humble beginnings aspiring to be president of what most see as the most powerful country in the world are worth helping to succeed.

Obviously, when the politicians see the potential votership they will pay attention to the needs and wants of a potentially very large constituency, which should translate into more services, etc. for any given community.

I feel, once the people see what their vote can do and has done, they will be married to the political system. They understand how important it is to be well informed, and how important it is for the candidate to be connected to the mainstream and grassroots. They now know what is expected from them and what they should expect from local and national politicians.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Boston Vote Strength Comparison

The following table shows how this year's presidential election vote cast in Boston compares with figures from the three previous presidential elections. For the most part, the figures show more relative gains in areas dominated by people of color--Chinatown, Roxbury, Mattapan, and parts of Dorchester.

Compared with the election of November, 2004, the number of registered voters in Boston had risen by 26.7% to 380,881. Despite the increase in the number of votes cast, there was also an increase in the number of eligible persons who didn’t vote. That’s why this year’s voter turnout (61.57%) was lower than the figure four years ago (68.61%).

For video reports on election day in Boston and reaction in Dudley Square the morning after the election, go to NNNonline.