As Boston Mourns An Innocent Son, Police Put Gangs In Spotlight

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Candles and mementos were left at a makeshift shrine for Nicholas Fomby-Davis in Dorchester. (Bianca Vasquez-Toness/ WBUR)
Candles and mementos were left at a makeshift shrine for Nicholas Fomby-Davis in Dorchester. (Bianca Vasquez-Toness/ WBUR)

Nicole Macfarland was sitting on her front stoop Sunday with her family. Suddenly, she heard shots. She ran and found a boy bleeding on the ground. It was her neighbor.

"I crouched down and said, 'Nicholas, your daddy's coming, they sent to get your dad.' He wasn't struggling, but he was breathing hard," Macfarland said.

Macfarland tried to keep him awake. The 30-year-old mom talked about how he was going to high school soon.

"And he just looked at me and put his head to the left and closed his eyes. Man, when I see the color leave his face," Macfarland remembered.

That boy was Nicholas Fomby-Davis. Two suspected gang members are now being held without bail for his murder in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood. The murder, and Boston police's unusual response to it, have shocked the tight-knit neighborhood.

Macfarland says Fomby-Davis was so smart, kids picked on him. Police say he wasn't in a gang. The assumption on the street is that those bullets were intended for someone else.

Friends and family of Nicholas Fomby-Davis wrote goodbyes to him on a flattened cardboard box. Click to enlarge. (Bianca Vazquez-Toness/WBUR)
Friends and family of Nicholas Fomby-Davis wrote goodbyes to him on a flattened cardboard box. Click to enlarge. (Bianca Vazquez-Toness/WBUR)

Police chalk it up to gang violence — and it's the second time this month that gangs are believed to be responsible for the murder of an innocent youth, after Jaewon Martin, also 14, was killed two weeks ago. Even though police have taken two suspects off the street for Fomby-Davis's murder, they're going further.

In an unusual move, they have blanketed the neighborhood with handbills showing what look like mugshots of men they say associate with the suspects.

Charles Bennett recognized some of them. He says they come from a gang on the other end of his street.

"They got nothing better to do. That street there, they're just a bunch of idiots down there," Bennett said.

He thinks the fliers are a step in the right direction.

"It's helpful. That's what's going to get these guys off the street, if anything," Bennett said.

This is a small, close-knit neighborhood of triple-deckers. Many people say they recognize men on the flier. One woman even says she changed the diapers of one of them.

But not everyone thinks this unorthodox police strategy will work.

Down the street, about 20 people are standing in the yard of a big green house. Fomby-Davis lived here.

His dad, Nathanial Davis, Jr., is sitting on the porch surrounded by well-wishers. Voice by voice, they weigh in on the details of the shooting and how the police have handled it.

"They're useless."

"They do what they can, man."

"It's up to us ... not them ... it's up to us."

Davis says he saw some of the men from the fliers walk into a local drugstore. So he did what he thought he was supposed to.

"We seen one of the dudes going into Walgreens, with another one with his pants hanging off his behind and we called (the police) and told them one of the dudes down here in the picture and everything," Davis said. "And they said they're not really looking for them, they're just letting people know that these are known criminals."

That's hardly a comfort to the man who's mourning his son.

"What's the sense in putting it out there if they ain't going to do nothing, you know? What's the sense?" Davis asked.

Davis thinks the police should look for these men.

Have you seen these men?
Boston Police are passing out this flier, showing 10 suspected gang members, in an effort to discourage gang activity. (Click to enlarge)

"They're around here, living in some subsidized building in everything, letting the government take care of them. And, excuse me, God ... " Davis said, crying, overcome with anger.

For better or worse, the pictures have given him a place to focus that anger.

Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis says the fliers aren't a direct law enforcement tool so much as a social tool. They are meant to shame gang members.

Commissioner Davis wants people in the community to "play a role" in ending urban violence by making suspected gang members "outcasts in their own neighborhood."

Initially, the police handed out fliers with photos of 10 men. But several people in this neighborhood say the officers followed up with another flier that included more — five or six more. Department spokespeople say they are unaware of a second list.

But 18-year-old Jovani Miranda says he's on it.

"(I feel) shocked. Scared. You never know. They might arrest me someday," Miranda said.

Miranda says it's unfair for the police to hand out his picture. He says he is not a gang member.

"I never do nothing to nobody. I never did nothing period around here," Miranda said.

But the picture on the flier is a mugshot. Miranda's been arrested before.

"For a little knife right there down the street," Miranda said. "They never got information about me doing something wrong to somebody. Or disturbing the peace on the street. Shooting guns like that. I don't do that. I was taught better than that."

Miranda says he feels neighbors are looking at him differently. Looking at him like he's a criminal. He's trying to think of a way to clear his name. In the meantime, he plans to stay off the streets.

This program aired on June 2, 2010.


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