Every Wednesday over the last 23 years, clergy, police and community advocates have gathered around a table at the Ella J. Baker House in Dorchester to try to save Boston’s soul.
They begin with a prayer by the Rev. Eugene Rivers, the founder of the Violence Reduction Task Force, but that’s about as much religion as there is during the hour.
They are trying to resurrect a city where nearly one in five lives are below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and where violent crime is down overall, but where gun violence has left people shaken, particularly in the poorest neighborhoods.
“You can get a gun as quickly as a can of Coke,” said Leonard Lee of Masking the Community, a group that provides free masks to anyone who wants one.
Boston police acknowledged the problem Wednesday. Last year, they took 300 guns off the street, said Officer Michael Taylor of the department’s gang unit. With four months left in this year, they’ve already confiscated 386.
“We’ve seen many cases in which multiple shots are fired,” said Rivers’ wife, Jacqueline Rivers, a board member of the Ella J. Baker House, which is named for the civil rights activist who died in 1986.
On July 5 alone, 35 bullets were fired on Harvard Street, piercing Deeqo Jibril’s and her neighbor’s homes, the Boston City Council candidate said.
On Aug. 4, police arrested a man with a gun loaded with nine rounds in the chamber on Washington and Moore streets, according to a representative from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office who attended yesterday’s meeting.
On Sunday, police found one spent shell in the Boston Children’s Hospital garage.
And on Monday, a man was found with a gun wrapped in a T-shirt on Wainwright St. — his third gun charge, she said.
There are other troubling incidents, as well: a woman who was attacked last Friday and hit in the face; a safe and a car that were stolen by two people the same day; an attempted rape on Aug. 7 on East Cottage Street, allegedly by a man whose bail was set at $1,000.
“We’ve got to do work on the prevention side,” Rivers said.
His wife also worried about kids aged 14 or older who want to work, but who are finding it challenging to get work permits.
After the meeting, Rivers said that he hopes Acting Mayor Kim Janey leverages the $500 million in federal funding Boston has received.
“That money needs to go where it needs to go,” he said. “The black community needs more than black girl magic. It needs results….It is unconscionable that we have these pockets of poverty and violence. ”
“Boston needs a corporate leadership structure that resembles more localized corporations and that is responsive to the poorest of the poor,” he said.
Every Boston youngster should receive a college education, Rivers said.
“There is no reason for a kid not to get an education. And that’s on us,” he said. “In a city with 80 colleges, you can’t get that done?”
Rivers also criticized Boston’s growing gentrification.
“You build in the Seaport this de facto segregation, a self-apartheid system,” he said.