A Witness to Violence

This article is more than 13 years old.

The recent homicide spike in Boston has raised a memory for one Bay State resident. In 1985, a young woman witnessed two men being shot to death in an alley in the North End of Boston. In this commentary, she prefers to use only her first name, Lisa.


LISA: It was a mild, summer evening in the North End; I was leaning out of my bedroom window and saw in person what, until then, I'd only witnessed on TV. I felt utter disbelief. I began to scream from a place deep inside of me. My mother came running from the kitchen. As I told her what I'd seen, she looked out of the window at the dead bodies and her own kind of screaming began.

A short time later, we heard knocking on the door. We knew it was the police. No one else knocked on doors in our neighborhood. My mother closed her eyes slowly and took a deep breath.

When she finally looked at me, there was something hard and cold there. We both remained as still as mannequins. Then I reached for the door. But my mother grabbed my arm, gritted her teeth and tried to prevent me from opening it. I pulled away from her and with shock and confusion said "I have to Ma."

To this very day, I have never seen such panic in my mother's face. Her reaction was so intense, so out of character, so alive with fear, and so maternal. I understood that she was trying to protect me.

But, at 18 years old, I wasn't ignorant of the danger I could be in by speaking to the detectives. I knew my neighborhood intimately: the kinds of people who lived there and what they might do to protect themselves. But not telling was not an option for me. It was the right thing to do, plain and simple. How could it not be for my mother, the woman who had taught me right from wrong?

In the end, I did speak with the police. I told them everything I saw, every detail. Eventually, two men were convicted of the murders.

The recent rise of violence in Boston has pulled the memory of this incident from the dusty corners of my mind.

Now I'm thinking: how many families are facing the same struggle we battled that night? How many parents are going against all they've taught their children in order to protect them? And why am I now leaning toward my mother's side and not standing solidly with the 18 year old girl I was back then?

Is it age that has changed me? Or is it having more to lose now that's caused this willingness to bargain with my own sense of decency. Though I don't have children of my own, I have nieces I love intensely and would protect with my life. But would I protect them at the expense of my integrity?

There was no hint of uncertainty on that summer night when I made my decision to speak to the police. Looking back now I feel frightened for, yet proud of, the 18 year old girl I was, ashamed of the woman I am today who may not open the door, and empathy for those mothers, fathers and children who may be struggling as I and my mother once did.

Commentator "Lisa" lives and writes in Worcester.

This program aired on April 19, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.