Gangs and Guns

Boston Police say guns and gangs go hand-in-hand and they're fighting an uphill battle

It's a little before 6 p.m. on a recent Thursday night. Two members of the Boston Police Gang Unit careen through Roxbury.

They are responding to a call for shots fired. It's the second shooting in less than an hour. Two gangs at it - Heath Street and H Block - they say. One gang member is dead, another hurt. The suspects are in the wind.

"The description we got is they ran through the building...," said one of the officers, who did not want his name used for safety reasons.


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It's a tricky time for the gang unit. They are part of a multi-agency task force that last month helped indict 56 suspected members of the Central American gang MS-13 - and they worry who will try to fill the void.

The Gang Unit officer said, "The younger kids are some of the most dangerous out there. They're making a name for themselves."

The gang's motto is rape, control, kill, and law enforcement says they prey on teens - most from El Salvador - wanting a better life in the United States. Lt. Jimmy Fitzpatrick says the gang guarantees MS-13 protection here if the 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds prove themselves there by killing a gang rival.

"The words - I can't even - I can't imagine it. It's unbelievable," he said. "That kid's ruined."

MS-13 and other gangs are getting tougher to track. Police say they are less often hanging on street corners and more often using social media to operate behind closed doors.

"They're antagonizing another group without being seen," Deputy Superintendent Gerard Bailey said. "Throwing down a challenge - 'how tough are you?'"

But eventually, the fight must come to the streets, making the work officers do here all the more critical. Intel is gold. Hardy and Walsh chat up groups, scan cars, run plates.

"We're very familiar with the operator," said one of the Gang Unit officers as they pulled over a white sedan.

As they scan the landscape, they want to know several things. Who's in the gang assessment database? Who are they with? What are they wearing? What are they driving?

The known gang member in the white car didn't have a valid license and could have been arrested. But the officers had the car towed and let him go with a citation. The favor now could pay better dividends later.

"You treat people with respect, you get respect," said a Gang Unit officer.

According to Boston Police data, last year, there were 226 shootings in the city, 33 of them fatal. Two months into the new year, there have been 20 shootings, leaving four men dead.

"There are way too many illegal guns coming into our city, and we're having way too many young kids shot," Police Commissioner William Evans said. "Recent studies have shown 70 percent of these guns are coming from outside the state. We have some good gun laws here, and we're not against legitimate gun owners, but there’s just too many illegal guns.”

Boston Police were able to take 785 guns off the street last year. So far this year, they've taken off 96, nearly twice as many as the same period last year. But progress is hard to measure.

"You get one off the street, you got three, four, five coming back on," said one of the Gang Unit officers.

"And the willingness to use them is incredible," added Bailey.

Hours later, another shooting - a dust up at a birthday party in Dorchester. Three shot - non-life threatening injuries. Those victims were luckier than the man killed here on Brookledge Street in Roxbury. A middle school boy bouncing his ball tells Officer Walsh the closed off crime scene means a longer walk home from the basketball court.

"Young, young kids are getting accustomed to shots fired at an early age and being around that violence and the possibility of catching a bullet," the Gang Unit officer said.

"That's the worst part," the other Gang Unit officer said. "It's almost like it's a game out there."

Added the first officer, "No rhyme or reason."

Sometimes it feels like a losing battle, they say, but still one that must be fought.

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