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The Courage To Listen

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On the day after the election, Reverend Jeffrey L. Brown spoke at the School of Criminal Justice, RU-N, on how a small group of dedicated clergy were able to help dramatically reduce violent crime in Boston in the 1990s.

Violent crime decreased by 79%. People call it “The Boston Miracle.”

The violence of the era was devastating: Parents quit letting their children play outside; and Brown found himself presiding over one teenage funeral after another. He preached against violence in his sermons, but people continued to die.

Then Brown and several other religious leaders decided to start walking the streets late at night. For the first two weeks, hardly anyone spoke to them, but soon enough young people started to open up. Brown said he realized then that his opinions of these individuals had been shaped by news and pop culture. In reality, they were perceptive and intelligent, and based on their perspective, the clergy were able to communicate with Boston police about effective policing.

“It wasn’t about kids deciding to stop shooting, but adults coming together and checking their egos,” Brown told the audience.

Recommendations included opting for targeted policing (going after the few armed gang members) instead of making big sweeps wherein dozens of kids were rounded up, regardless of affiliation or guilt.

Brown’s talk was part of the Ron Rice Lecture series, launched in 2013 in honor of RU-N alumnus State Senator Ron Rice; and served as a timely reminder of the potency of meaningful community engagement and dialogue.