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Gravestone stolen in Boston as advocates fear escalation in gang dispute
Boston Herald - 4/3/2022
A stolen gravestone has reinvigorated a rivalry between two Mission Hill-area gangs, according to police and community sources, worrying advocates about potentially escalating violence in a city that’s otherwise largely been able to avoid recent surges.
The Heath Street and the Annunciation Street gangs, which both have a history of violence, are taking issue with each other. The venues right now, oddly, are the internet and graveyards, with competing posts, according to community sources, circulating on social media of people kicking over gravestones in Boston cemeteries, and one headstone actually being stolen.
Here’s the background, according to a police source and community sources: The Heath Street gang is thought to have knocked over a gravestone of an Annunciation Road gangmember recently. Then, some Annunciation-affiliated people went to the Oak Lawn Cemetery along Cummins Highway and knocked over the gravestone of Gerrod Brown Jr., a local teenager who was shot to death in 2017 — and then carried it off.
The gravestone ended up in the first block of Annunciation Road, in the Alice Taylor public housing complex on the Roxbury-Mission Hill border behind Boston Police headquarters. That’s where cops found it, according to a police report that the department provided to the Herald when asked about the gravestone incident.
The report provides a few more details about the theft, reported this past Tuesday. On that day, someone — police redacted the name, as is common for them to do for witnesses — called the cops and said she’d seen photos from social media of Brown’s gravestone somewhere in Mission Hill. So, she said, she’d headed down to the Oak Lawn Cemetery, according to the report — and found that the headstone was in fact gone.
When the officers on scene called it in, the police Youth Violence Strike Force let them know they’d found the headstone, picking it up on Annunciation Road.
“Due to the cemetery facilities being closed and ongoing issues involving the theft of the head stone and other instances of vandalism inside the cemetery, the decision was made to transport the head stone to Dist. 18 where it was placed in the wagon bay for safekeeping,” police wrote, referring to the E-18 precinct in Hyde Park. The cops checked off the box on police reports that suggests the incident is gang-related.
Matt Parker of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods said, “This is just something that can escalate so easily.”
“We need cooler heads, mentorship and availability of services” to try to disrupt these cycles of violence, he added.
The 16-year-old Brown’s slaying, on Halloween night in 2017, has long been tied to gang violence. A crackdown of the Heath Street gang the following year mentioned that killing as feds arrested multiple alleged gangmembers in the Jamaica Plain Mildred C. Hailey public housing complex — formerly Bromley-Heath, the home of the Heath Street gang, just under a mile as the crow flies from Annunciation Road.
Cops at the time said Brown was a bystander to a fight between two groups that escalated into a shooting.
Domingos DaRosa, another longtime youth activist who coached Brown in Pop Warner football and spoke at his funeral, told the Herald he was a good kid who other young people looked up to. He first met Brown when the young man brought over a group of kids and asked if they all could be on DaRosa’s team, even though they weren’t technically in the right area — the kids were looking for something positive to do with their free time, so the answer was yes.
That’s what makes Brown’s killing doubly tragic, in DaRosa’s estimation. A young man was slain, but also a peer pillar of his friends’ lives was gone, likely bringing some of the other kids back into the arms of the streets, answering violence with violence that begets more violence.
“Kids keep inheriting street drama,” DaRosa said, adding that the city and its school district have to do a better job in supporting kids and equipping them in how to deal with life. “Now it’s two groups of young people who are knee deep in all this.”
Asked about the gang conflict, Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration said, “The City is taking an intensive approach across departments to end and prevent violence in our neighborhoods. Our thoughts are with the families touched by these traumatic acts, and we will continue to work relentlessly to support youth development, safe streets, and violence intervention across our agencies.”
Boston is largely alone among big cities in having avoided major surges of violence over the past couple of years. The police department counted five homicides as the start of the week. That’s down from 10 at that point last year and from the five-year average of 16, though the number of shootings this year as compared to last is about the same.
DaRosa said he hopes the powers that be figure out how to short-circuit the simmering gang conflict, but he’s not optimistic.
“It’s only going to get worse, and it’s going to involve a lot of younger people,” DaRosa predicted. “This summer is going to be on fire.”
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