Boston reverend rejects 'defund police,' demands mayoral candidates stop 'terror' in Black neighborhoods

Rev. Eugene Rivers warned 'terror is rising' after 40 bullets sprayed out in Roxbury

A longtime religious leader in Boston is demanding that mayoral candidates address rising gun violence in Massachusetts’ capital after a recent incident sprayed 40 bullets across a neighborhood street, arguing that "calls for defunding police and the elimination of school police are absurd."

Rev. Eugene Rivers will hold a press conference in Dorchester Thursday, days after a shooting in the Roxbury neighborhood sprayed at least 40 bullets into cars and buildings Monday night. 

Though no one was injured in that incident, Rivers is still offering a $10,000 reward after the tragic fatal shooting of 73-year-old grandmother Delois Brown in April, who was killed by strayed gunfire while sitting on her Dorchester porch. Still no arrests have been made. 

And another shootout in July involved an exchange of 37 gunshots, and four pistols recovered. Meanwhile, there is a bill in the state legislature pushed by Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan to make firing at homes a felony offense and upping the penalty to a five-year sentence or $10,000 fine. 

"There has been no substantial response from the mayoral candidates to this unbelievable display of violence in the poorest and Blackest neighborhoods in this city," Rivers said in a statement to the Boston Herald before the upcoming press conference. "Any mayoral candidate that fails to present a systematic, evidence-based policy prescription and program to reduce the violence which is plaguing Boston’s poorest neighborhoods should not be elected to the office of leading executive of the city."

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Rivers seek to present "a moral challenge to the mayoral candidates," demanding that those running for the office on Nov. 2 must address "violence in our Black neighborhoods."

"Terror is rising in the neighborhoods where this explosion of gun violence is occurring," Rivers continued. "Every one of the candidates seeking the office of mayor must be publicly challenged regarding their indifference to the well-being of the most vulnerable residents of the city whose principal offense is that they are poor and Black."

A year after progressives loudly espoused cries to "defund the police" following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Democrats vying for office this year and the next seem to be taking a more centered approach amid rising crime rates in major U.S. cities, launching campaigns with some reforms to public safety – but maintaining that police officers are needed to combat the surging violence. 

Marty Walsh vacated the office of Mayor of Boston in March before he was sworn in as the 29th U.S. Secretary of Labor under the Biden administration. Those vying to replace him include city councilors Michelle Wu, Andrea Campbell and Annissa Essaibi George; former city economic development chief John Barros, and acting Mayor Kim Janey, who as president of the city council was chosen to temporarily replace Walsh, Boston.com reported. 

The candidates will first compete in a preliminary contest on Sept. 14 before two finalists compete in the general election in November. 

The first Black woman to hold the duties of mayor in Boston, Janey has called for increased "equity" initiatives in the city, and recently voiced opposition of requiring vaccine passports to enter restaurants and gyms like instituted by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, comparing such measures to slavery and ideal promoted by former President Trump. She has not directly addressed her approach to fighting crime. Her campaign ad voices support for another Black woman, and member of the progressive "Squad" of congresswomen, Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley.

Wu has advocated for "demilitarizing the Boston police," arguing that sending armed law enforcement to respond to incidents involving mental health or homelessness "doesn’t provide the service that residents need help with in that moment, but introduces risk and harm." She told Boston.com she supports creating "alternative crisis response mechanisms."

Meanwhile, Campbell said she supports at least a $50 million cut from the Boston Police Department budget, and has received pushback from police unions over a universal body camera pilot program. 

"The police alone will never be able to eradicate violence in the city by themselves. Yes, we need them to show up for the tough calls, and to hold them accountable, of course, and support them in that work," she told the outlet, arguing that seriously eradicating violence requires a more comprehensive response to poverty by increasing economic opportunity and mental health support. 

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Essaibi George is the only candidate who opposes reallocating portions of the Boston Police Department budget and has advocated for increasing the number of clinicians and social workers who can accompany police officers responding to mental health and homelessness-related 911 calls. 

Barros is the only candidate who supports bringing guaranteed base income to Boston. He also supports reallocating portions of the police budget to create a new agency with City Hill members who may respond to certain 911 calls in lieu of officers, fire personnel or EMS.