In the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he vowed to decrease gun violence, Boston saw three shooting deaths this week, bringing the January death toll to seven, the Boston Police Department reportedTuesday.
According to the BPD report, which compares crime numbers from Jan. 1 to Jan. 26 of this year to those of Jan. 1 to Jan. 26 of 2013, there had only been two homicides at this time last year.
“While there is no single solution, improving public safety is among my highest priorities,” Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said in a statement Monday. “This kind of violence cannot become commonplace; we should be shocked every time we hear of another shooting, of another death in our community.”
Walsh said four of the gun-related deaths are connected, due to gang violence or retaliation.
Neuropsychologist Douglas Watt said there are a variety of factors that have led to this year’s high violence numbers, such as neglect, poverty, substance abuse and easy access to firearms. Violence can result from any combination of these factors.
“Any variable in any society is like that,” he said. “Single factor theories don’t work in any biological domain because there’s nothing in biology and therefore nothing in psychology that emerges from a single factor. It emerges from a sense of family of factors that amplify one another and violence is no different.”
Although people who commit violent crimes can be incarcerated, harsh punishment will not be the solution to increased violence in Boston, he said.
“The big picture in this country is that we’re creating far more future violence by virtue of the way we run this society,” he said. “The biggest problem is the societal fantasy that harsh punishments deter or prevent crime. They don’t, and the research shows that they don’t. People who are trying to commit violent crimes don’t think about the likelihood of a harsh sentence. We have to change the emphasis from sentencing to prevention.”
Ladd Everitt, director of communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said January is a surprising month for a large number of homicides.
“Law enforcement in big cities always know that the warm months are typically the more deadly months, as far as gun homicide is concerned,” he said. “Summer is always the time when you would get more people hanging out outdoors at night. You wouldn’t expect to see something like this during what’s basically been a cold wave.”
Everitt said although the numbers are alarming, conclusions should not be drawn based on one month of numbers.
“Some of these cases may be connected, and you may have one shooter shooting multiple people,” he said. “Massachusetts has a very low rate of gun deaths. That’s very important to understand. They’re typically in the top five of the 50 states in the lowest gun death rate in the country.”
Several residents said they are concerned with the January homicide numbers, and they hope the BPD will take action to lower the homicide rates.
David Ciak, 52, of Boston, said the numbers bother him, regardless of the possibility that the shootings were related, not random.
“It’s still people getting shot, whether it be gang violence or just random violence,” he said. “That’s all fine and dandy but that’s still people shooting each other. Either way, it still bothers me.”
Cathy Kaldy, 27, of Fenway, said she is surprised to hear about the homicide numbers, but she said the police make her feel safe in the city.
“Before [knowing that], I felt safe,” she said. “Now, I’m a little concerned, but I still feel safe. It’s a great place to live. In general, I think the police do a fantastic job. They should be doing anything they can to keep gun violence down, but I trust them to do their jobs.”
Kate Audette, 33, of Dorchester, said she feels safe in her neighborhood, but she said the state legislature should be taking action to decrease gun violence.
“I actually live right in the neighborhood where one of the murders just happened,” she said “It was right next door to me, in Dorchester. But I still feel safe there. The city and the state legislature could do a lot more to address gun violence. I think they need to look at some bans on assault weapons for civilian use.”