Black Lives White Lives

images-5  by Dennis Galvin

African American communities are experiencing escalating levels of violence, resulting in a racially disproportionate murder rate in Massachusetts. Some allege these deaths are part of a program of police “genocide”, but the fact is, that overwhelmingly, the killers of young African American men are other young African American men. Some of the violence is “gang related”. Some appears to be related to personal vendettas. One valid criticism, that has been raised, is whether society’s response to the carnage has been commensurate across racial lines.

Between 1961 and 1967 Boston experienced a brutal gang war. Those involved were all white and predominantly Irish. Gangs in Charlestown and Somerville shot it out over an insult to someone’s girlfriend. When the feud ended sixty five young men lay dead.

Society’s response to today’s urban violence, when compared to the reaction that occurred 50 years ago to the “Irish Gang War” supports the claim that the responses is disparate.  The hue and cry against the gang violence of the sixties led to the formation of a “state crime commission”, a legislative body that essentially wielded grand jury power. The commission subpoenaed witness, and took testimony under pains of perjury. Those connected to the shootings were hauled before the commission and gave valuable testimony. The true extent of organized crime in Massachusetts was revealed. The commission brought about the establishment of the Special Services Unit within the State Police, which effectively used electronic eavesdropping authority and asset forfeiture to combat organized criminal violence.   Ultimately, it was the US Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s who targeted organized crime and curtailed the wanton violence.

As the bodies fall in Roxbury and Mattapan, the lack of government action by both federal and state authorities, is conspicuous. No special grand jury has been convened to investigate this violence. State authorities do not appear to be actively assisting Boston with electronic eavesdropping, raids, and forfeitures to remove the financial incentives. It would appear that there is a difference between black lives and white lives, when it comes to murder and what society does about it. Until our society takes steps to ensure commensurate levels of protection and justice across racial lines, the national dream of an integrated society remains elusive.

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