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After Street Worker's Shooting, Hard Questions About Ground-Level Gang Work

This article is more than 13 years old.

When Boston Police announced a sharp drop in violent crime during the last year, they credited the collaboration of police and community outreach workers who target gang members and try to lure them away from the violence.

But the recent shooting of an unarmed street worker has led to questions about their safety, and whether the city does enough to help them through the traumas of their job.

The corner of Shawmut and Hammond (Ross Dallas for WBUR)
The corner of Shawmut and Hammond Streets, in the South End, marks a line between two local gangs. It was here that a city street worker was shot in the head on Aug. 21, 2009. (Ross Dallas for WBUR)

Thirty-year-old William Harvey, Jr. is an outreach worker for the city of Boston. His job on the streets is to help pull young men like Domenic Hall out of gang life — or at least stop them from killing each other. But now Domenic Hall is being charged with shooting William Harvey.

In December, Hall pleaded not guilty to the charge he shot William Harvey in the head last August. In the front row of a Suffolk Superior courtroom sat Harvey himself. The fragments of the bullet are still floating in his head.

"The officer said it must have been a bad round," Harvey says. "So I'm just lucky. It hit my skull and shattered, so the whole bullet is in my head."

Still unable to work and unsure of his recovery, Harvey came to court with his nine-month-old son and some fellow street workers.

Prosecutor Daniel Mulhern told the court the alleged shooter hit the wrong person. "It should be noted," Mulhern said, "the investigation clearly revealed that Mr. Harvey was not the intended target of this shooting."

That fact comes as little consolation to Harvey, who because he’s on workman’s comp is now making a fraction of his already modest salary. He owes several month's rent on the home for his son and girlfriend, he can't support his mother and he can't pay his college loans, he says.

What's happened to him from the time he got shot illustrates the hazards of being a city street worker.

It was August, and Harvey and four other street workers, including his supervisor, were dropping off kids from an afternoon of basketball and picking up another group. By the clock, it was close to 9 p.m. and the street workers' day was over.

But being a street worker is really an all-day job, says Dennis Avila, who was there that night. "These are guys I grew up with, these are guys I love," Avila says. "I feel an obligation to my neighborhood."

And that South End neighborhood close to Roxbury is one of the most violent in the city. Avila saw one of his clients executed here on the Fourth of July, another man was murdered at Christmastime and there was a shoot-out at Thanksgiving.

The corner of Shawmut and Hammond Streets, in the South End, is the hard edge — the tectonic plate — between two gangs: the Madison Park Village boys and the Lenox Street crew. And this was the dynamic at play back on Aug. 21.

"We’re definitely dealing with the kids we’re supposed to be dealing with and it happens that a guy from the other side wanted to shoot the guy we’re working with," Avila remembers.

A number of witnesses identified the man with the shiny black 9-millimeter handgun as Domenic Hall. He belongs to the Madison Park Village crew and he walked up to William Harvey's car, according to witnesses who know him, in order to shoot a member of the Lenox Street crew named Tyrone Anderson.

Like Hall, Anderson is a convicted gun-toter with a record of drug convictions. The street workers had been trying to turn him around. But now Anderson was sitting in the back seat of William Harvey's car. For the street workers this was the dangerous middle.

"Mr. Hall fired multiple rounds," prosecutor Dan Mulhern says.

One took out the driver’s side window, other bullets passed through the car, missing Harvey's supervisor who was sitting beside him. And one hit Harvey behind the ear and shattered against his skull.

"Let me tell you something,"' says Chris Byner who oversees the 30 street workers employed by the city of Boston. "Will Harvey worked hard for this city. He worked hard day in and day out. No one wants to see something like this happen to anybody."

The city has Will Harvey on workman's comp. So while Domenic Hall and Tyrone Anderson, who's charged with lying to investigators, remain in jail because they can't pay bail, William Harvey can't pay his bills.

If he had gotten shot as a Boston police officer, he'd be getting 100 percent of his salary tax free; the same if he were a firefighter. But as a street worker he's now getting less than $300 a week.

"Policy is policy," Byner says. "He has to go out on workman's comp. That's just the nature of it. It's unfortunate that he can't pay his bills."

Byner says he and the city would do whatever they can to help. He pointed Harvey to the city's Employee Assistance Program, but Harvey's scheduled appointment was in late December, four months after the shooting. Harvey couldn't keep it. He was hospitalized for an anxiety attack the night before.

Harvey says he hasn't gotten any counseling. He says he's not one to ask for help. But crisis specialists say this is a common post-traumatic response of injured police officers and firefighters that their own departments respond to with comprehensive outreach, counseling and advocacy.

He says he gets the occasional phone call from the program. "Like Chris Byner, he lets me know if I need anything, call him," Harvey says. "But as far as the city, I can't say anybody from the city called. So I guess it's not their responsibility or they don't think it's their responsibility. I don't know."

Harvey says that he has never gotten a visit or call from the mayor, elected officials or black ministers from the TenPoint Coalition.

Rev. Jeffrey Brown, who heads the TenPoint Coalition, says he went to the hospital the night of the shooting but couldn't see Will Harvey. Brown expresses surprise at Harvey's plight; he doesn't know of anyone in the Coalition who has followed-up.

The mayor's office had no other comment except that the mayor did visit the street worker program the day after the shooting, although none of street workers who'd been at the scene the night before were present.

Street worker Dennis Avila says he's still rattled by what happened and unhappy with the city's response to both Harvey and his fellow street workers

"You go through so much stuff. You see so much," Avila says. "The city didn't give me no trauma training, they didn't give me no days off, I was back on the street day after that. Same streets, same thugs."

Chris Byner, who oversees the street workers, asserts that the city offered services, counseling and much more. Perhaps the difference is between offering services and actually bringing them to injured employees. That's what the fire and police departments do to make sure employees get what they need.

This was the first time a street worker has ever been shot. Maybe there's a lesson the city and its street workers can learn to prevent another case like William Harvey's.

Harvey says he isn't sure if he'll go back.

"To provide for my son, I'd do anything," he says. "So that's the only reason I'd do it. But if I don't have to — nah."

This program aired on January 12, 2010.

David Boeri Twitter Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.



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