Recent violence centers around Ruggles station

By Drew Bonifant

For many students, the T is more than a subway system. It is a primary mode of transportation, a connection to all reaches of the city, and for some, a way to get to and from class every day.

For others, the T has come to represent a scene of tragedy, after recent instances of violence in MBTA stations, trains and buses.

An 18-year-old Hyde Park male was shot in the head and killed on a bus that had left Ruggles Station for Ashmont Friday, while another teenager was stabbed at Ruggles the previous week, according to Boston Police reports.

The violent instances are the latest in a history of MBTA-related crime. According to an article in the Boston Globe April 1, this March saw the trial and conviction of Ivan Hodge and O’Neil Francis for a March 2005 shooting and killing on an MBTA bus in Roxbury, while two men were recently convicted of the 2003 murder of a pregnant woman in an Orange Line car. On Feb. 26, three teenagers were charged with stabbing another teenager at Ruggles.

Civilians are often the mistaken victims of gangs with specific targets in mind, said Jack Levin, the Brudnick professor of sociology and criminology.

“Just like crime committed by teens elsewhere, the crime on the MBTA seems to be gang-related. We’re talking young people shooting at young people,” Levin said. “The problem is that sometimes they can’t shoot straight, and unfortunately, they’ll kill innocent bystanders.”

Calls to the public relations staff at the MBTA were not returned.

James Alan Fox, the Lipman Family professor of criminal justice, said additional police could help lower the amount of crime in these violent areas, specifically the T and its stations.

“You identify places, whether on the T or on the streets, that have been problems, called hotspots, and you flood them with security,” Fox said. “If you flood one area with police, crime can move to another area, but it won’t to the same degree. While it won’t eliminate it, it will affect it significantly.”

Levin said criminals are less likely to act if they know a punishment awaits.

“The presence of larger numbers of police officers in the MBTA and in the stations has a deterring effect,” he said. “The more certain punishment is, the more deterrent effect it has. If violent criminals know they’ll be caught riding the MBTA, they’ll find another venue.”

The nature of the crime can make it difficult for police to completely stop it, said Associate Director of Public Safety Jim Ferrier.

“Assaults are generally the results of targets. It’s not random violence,” Ferrier said. “Assaults are committed against acquaintances, so it’s very difficult to prevent that from happening, because you have to keep acquaintances apart.”

Despite the series of attacks and history of violence, Boston remains a relatively safe city. Levin said the city has improved since 1990, when there were 152 murders. In 2006 there were 74.

However, as of April 1 there were 16 murders in Boston this year, compared to 10 last year, according to a year-to-date report from the Boston Police Department.

Compared with other major cities, Levin said Boston’s rates are “not inordinately high,” and the recent violent episodes shouldn’t challenge that.

“[It’s important to know that violent outbreaks] are rare, despite the pervasive hype in the media,” Fox said. “They’re tragic, but the city of Boston’s rates are pretty low. There have been episodes on the T this year, there have been episodes in the past. Something needs to be done, obviously, but you shouldn’t run around like the sky is falling. It’s not.”

Some students who use the Orange Line daily agree with Fox.

“I feel perfectly safe,” said Eric Smith, a freshman business major who was entering Ruggles Station yesterday. “I feel fine, and very comfortable [using the T].”

“Every citizen should use common sense when they use public transportation,” Levin said. “But I still ride the Orange Line, and I feel completely safe.”

Kim Nichols, a graduate student, said she travels through Ruggles station at least twice a week and has never felt unsafe.

“You’re in the city, you have to get used to [violence],” she said.” I just heard the gist of the violence [at Ruggles]. It’s sad it has to happen.”

Gina Escobar, a graduate student studying for a Phd. in physics, said she normally takes the T around 1 a.m. and there aren’t many people around at that time.

“I feel like anyone can come there, criminals and such, but there are police officers walking around that I see,” Escobar said. “I have heard stories of violence but never seen any.”

Ryan Milles, a sophomore marketing major, said he uses Ruggles station every day to get to co-op.

“I’ve heard that people get shot and stabbed there,” Milles said. “It gets scary sometimes, but you can’t let it get to you.”

Matteo Batista, a senior mechanical engineering major, said he thinks the Orange Line has a bad reputation.

“People always say stuff about the Orange Line being dangerous,” he said. “But growing up around the area of Roxbury and Dorchester, I just learned where to go and where not to go. … It seems like most of it is just high school kids fooling around.”

– News staff writer Marc Laroque contributed to this report.

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