The Discovery of Discourse; The Heroic Struggle of the Boston Minorities to belong among “Us” and not “Them”

Sun 19 February 2006

{abstract prepared for the Annual Meeting of the Law & Society Association}

The dramatic decrease in murder rate in the City of Boston in the late 1990s (so called “The Boston Miracle”) was explained by many researchers in many different ways and therefore seen as a result of many different actions of different actors. So, for example, Winship (2002) explained The Boston Miracle as result of the cooperation between The Ten Point Coalition (a coalition of local mostly Black churches) and the authorities of the City of Boston (esp. police, social and youth services), where Black ministers functioned as the mediating factor which provided an “umbrella of legitimacy” for BPD strategies, which could otherwise be understood as the use of excessive force against the minority community. At the same time the ministers provided valuable information for the police about the most troublemaking elements in the minority community. This story has now returned to the predominant position in the press and media, because of the 2004-05 rise of the murder rate again to the highest level in the ten years.

On the other hand, the project of police operation created by the team around the Harvard professors David Kennedy and Anthony Braga (Braga, Kennedy, 2001) was labelled by many others as the main cause of the successful crime prevention. And there are many other contenders (less influential and less visible ones) to claim the credit (for example, The Nation of Islam was credited by the local African-American community newspaper as the most influential factor in the decrease of crime). And of course, local politicians (whether African-American, Latino, or white) claimed their credit as well.

In view of the number and persuasiveness of different theories explaining The Boston Miracle, I do not want to add yet another all-explaining theory, because I think that the whole success of the Bostonian anti-crime policy of the late 1990s has multiple causes which mutually enforced each other and lead to the final success. On the other hand, I would like to suggest one more point of view on the whole history which could conveniently bind together many of these explanations. Symbolic interactionism (Blumer, 1969) explains the development of self-understanding as a by-product of the interaction between different actors and in the same moment predicts that the expected behavior can be linked to the actor’s self-perception generated in the past interactions (Mead, 1934).

The purpose of this research is to understand one particular aspect of this self-perception at the level of the community, and that is division into “Us” and “Them” between minority and majority actors. Analysis of the newspaper articles will be used to find out how much narrowing (or widening) of the gap between majority and the official establishment on the one side and minority communities on the other side made their mutual collaboration possible. Emphasis will be put on the relationship between long-term processes (as the redefinition of the community self is) and short-term consequences of changes during these processes.

Category: research Tagged: boston murders policing criminology