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The Role of Clergy in Reducing Boston’s Crime Rate

In the aftermath of the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, Boston inner-city clergy are revisiting their own journey from a violence-plagued 1980s to a much more peaceful 2014. Correspondent Dan Lothian explores some of the practices that emerged in Boston in its effort to mitigate the high inner-city crime rates and discusses, in a 7 1/2-minute news video how those practices could be helpful in Ferguson.

In the 1980s, Boston had a high crime rate and a breakdown of trust between city youth and the Boston police force. Local clergy, including Harvard-educated the Rev. Eugene Rivers, “founded the Ten Point Coalition, an organization that targets at-risk youth” before they become teenagers. “They also began laying the foundation for trust between skeptical residents and the police,” said Lothian. In part because of the Coalition’s work, by 2000, Boston’s murder rate had dropped almost 80 percent, the police were more ethnically diverse and federal dollars were pouring in, in “a recognition that the partnership with law enforcement and clergy was working.”

Success bred its own problems, however. “Pastors and other community activists started bickering over federal dollars for their programs.” Partnerships unraveled and clergy started traveling to talk about their Boston success, which “left nobody in Boston to continue the success,” said Rev. Bruce Wall, one of the partnership clergy. As a result, the crime rate began inching up again. “Boston is living off of the success of the past,” Wall declared. “If somebody were to pull the curtain and see that the emperor has no clothes on, we would be exposed for what we are.” 

According to Rev. Rivers, the problem is that the organization and clergy “had not developed a succession plan to find younger clergy who would put boots on the ground.” Rev. Wall believes it is also important to visit other crime-troubled cities, not to give advice, but to listen, to learn and to identify new social and cultural trends that could find their way to Boston. 

One such trend is the shift of criminal activity to the Internet. “People are buying drugs off the Internet, they’re texting, they’re e-mailing,” he noted, “so the cats doing the doo-wop thing on the corner has shifted now because the social network world is the new street corner,” which requires that these clergy also become Internet-savvy and spend time using social media. Rev. Rivers said, “One has to take a long view and have a succession plan.” Also see “Five Hopeful Signs for U.S. Congregations,” a feature article that explores the positive impact churches are having in their communities.

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