Antiviolence Activists Join City Officials To Launch MBTA-Wide Ad Campaign
BOSTON/Roxbury – Peace activists joined with city officials and the MBTA this week to launch a new phase in a campaign to reduce violence in Boston.
A coalition of community activists - led by the organization Citizens for Safety and Operation L.I.P.S.T.I.C.K. - gathered at the Ruggles T station Tuesday to announce a new public service campaign directed at women who are coerced or compelled by family ties into hiding and holding illegal guns.
The MBTA donated the cost of printing hundreds of posters with the message “His Crime Your Time – Holding His Gun Can Land You In Jail.” The image of a woman in handcuffs helps drive the point home.
The ads will be placed on subway cars throughout the transit system.
Girlfriends, mothers, sisters, and other women are easy prey for gun traffickers, says Nancy Robinson, Executive Director of the non-profit Citizens for Safety. She described the problem in a phone interview last month.
“So we hear stories, anecdotally, and now the research backs that up, that women often are coerced and pressured and bribed to supply these guns so often used in shootings.”
According to emerging research, says Robinson, “a women who buys a gun; that gun is twice as likely to be used in a crime.”
During Tuesday’s announcement at Ruggles, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said that in 2013 close to 700 guns were confiscated and so far this year about 83. He described the fact that several were taken from women as “alarming.” The police, he added, are seeing an increase in women involved in violent gang activity.
“That hasn’t happened like that in years past and we’re seeing it more and more.”
Of the twelve homicides in Boston through February, one victim was female; 28 year old Teasia Montgomery.
Coordinated by Operation L.I.P.S.T.I.C.K. – Ladies Involved in Putting a Stop to Inner City Killing, the campaign holds monthly workshops to educate both the public and victims of violence about gun trafficking, the use of women as “straw” purchasers of guns, and the alternatives for women and men feeling trapped in a cycle of violence.
L.I.P.S.T.I.C.K. organizer Kim Odom knows that cycle all too well. Her thirteen year old son Steven was murdered near their home in Mattapan in 2007. The eighteen year old man police believe pulled the trigger was killed in what was called gang related violence ten days later. A second teenager plead guilty in 2010 and is serving 6 to 8 years in prison on accessory charges.
Reflecting on why she joined the campaign Odom said she wanted to understand the root causes of violence. “And there were three questions that I asked, ‘who’s doing what, how’s it being done, and how can I add value.’
And certainly I wanted to know who did this and why; because that person or persons needed to be held accountable.”
Articulating the underlining question put forward by Citizens for Safety and the coalition, Odom said there’s another aspect to accountability.
“And that is in asking the question, ‘where did the gun come from?’”
In an email following Tuesday’s campaign launch, Robinson said the initial positive response to the campaign encouraged MBTA officials to increase the first order for posters from 300 to 600.
“If we raise more money, they’ll go on more subway cars and expand to buses, bus stops and billboards,” she added.
Local organizers say this is the first mass transit campaign in the U.S. to address how women act when faced with pressures to hide, hold, or purchase a gun for someone else. Massachusetts continues to trail only Hawaii with the fewest numbers of gun homicides in the U.S. But a spike in homicides in the city in the last two months has Boston residents on edge and the administration of Mayor Martin Walsh searching for answers.
“It’s the right time for a campaign like this and a good fit for our new approach to gun crime,” said Walsh. He described the approach as “collaborative, working across lines that have divided us in the past.”
This includes, said Walsh, “listening to victims and their advocates, ministers and community leaders, and coordinating efforts between city, state, and federal agencies.”
The Mayor announced he would enlist two members of Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley’s staff to coordinate the administration’s safety initiative: Assistant District Attorney Daniel Mulhern, who heads up the gang unit and former Dorchester District Court Probation Officer Leon Graves. Their charge includes studying antiviolence efforts across city departments and recommending strategies for improvements.
Through the ad campaign and their regular monthly workshops, Operation L.I.P.S.T.I.C.K. organizers hope to intervene before women get caught up in the criminal justice system. Mitigating circumstances, said District Attorney Conley, only go so far.
“We look at all cases on a case by case basis, and we use our best judgment… but the fact of the matter is, we can’t overlook the involvement, it’s not innocent involvement.
It might be exploitive in some sense, but it’s also done with free will. And so in order for us to send a strong message to anyone who is holding a firearm… we have to take a hard line.”
It’s not clear what sort of impact will be made through the MBTA public service advertising campaign. There are quite a few competing messages on the trains. On the Red Line recently, passengers could see the L.I.P.S.T.I.C.K poster wedged between a promotion for UMass Boston and an ad for the online business review site Yelp. This reporter couldn’t help but notice that most riders had their heads down looking at smart phones or e-readers.
But hearing the words of activists such as Tina Chery of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute – herself one of the most hard hit by gun violence in the city – it’s extremely difficult to question the motivations behind the campaign.
“You see, what this campaign is saying, it is educating women that they are in control; that we are in control of our destiny. And it is also saying that it is ok to say ‘No!’ when the man who claims he loves you asks you to carry, to hide, or to buy a gun.”