The Amy Lord murder in South Boston is the quintessential “small town girl in the big city” horror story. It is what every suburban parent fears when their child takes up residence in an urban location. Though stranger murders make up only 2% of all murders of women, and someone is in more “stranger danger” in places without sidewalks and on high speed undivided roadways, for Amy, others like her, and their families, these tragedies are a grim reality.
I’ve reread some of the news reports on Amy’s murder and, more significantly for this essay, read the comments. Now Boston’s murder and violent crime rates hover in the same range as that of Springfield and I can’t remember the last time there was a stranger murder of this sort here. (I’m sure there have been cases like this, just none in recent memory and certainly not since I began this blog.) What I haven’t seen in any of the comments to any of the stories are generalized venomous attacks on Boston. There are criticisms of the media, of the blogosphere, of the police, of the assailant, but not one of the city.
When I was a teen, Boston was thought of as a cesspool. Read the chapter on Boston in Jim Kunstler’s book “The City in Mind” and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. Boston was a cesspool, New York was a cesspool, Washington D.C. was a cesspool. They were targets. Seemingly every story about Boston mentioned “The Combat Zone”, racial strife, unemployment, decay, decline, and violence. The Amy Lord story would have been the cherry on top of the Boston-hater sundae in 1979.
Fast forward to the present and my hometown of Springfield has actually had a run of upbeat news. An iconic restaurant slated to close has been revamped and will reopen as an updated version of itself, a Chinese railroad car manufacturer will locate its North American headquarters here and has been awarded the contract to assemble hundreds of subway cars for Boston’s Red Line and Green Line over the next 10 years, voters appear ready to allow an $850,000,000 MGM resort casino to move ahead in the heart of the city’s South End, and north-south commuter rail service is about to become a reality in a restored Union Station.
When I saw that the Springfield connected CNR Corporation had received the MBTA contract for subway cars I went to the Berkshire Eagle newspaper (The paper of record for Berkshire County) to read what the response was there, as several Berkshire locations were also in the running for foreign manufacturers to set up assembly plants. In what turned out to be merely a wire-service article on the decision to award the contract to CNR this line appeared:
“Springfield is western Massachusetts’ economic and cultural hub, but it also has among the highest unemployment rates in the state.”
In retrospect, this being a news wire piece, it makes sense that the reporter would contextualize the decision for readers who might not know the difference between Springfield, Mass., and Springfield, Vermont. What I was astounded to see was that, in the comments beneath the article someone had taken the time to write this:
It’s not that I’m shocked by the uninformed, vituperative nature of the comment; that’s what trolls do. It’s that the “Hate-Springfield” meme has traversed the Berkshires. I wrote a polite, lengthy, though incomplete, response to the erroneous claim that Springfield is not the cultural hub of western Massachusetts(which I’ll link to here), but what interests me is the contrast between these two stories. In one, a small town girl moves to the city and is strangled, stabbed, and murdered, and not one critical word is uttered about South Boston. In another, a down-on-its-luck community gets some good news for a change, and comments on an article published at least one region removed respond venomously to a balanced and completely accurate statement made within the body of the news report.
My hope is that, just as Boston has gone from being a shit-hole to being a town whose “shit don’t stink”, Springfield can flip the switch, change the narrative, and start getting a fair shake in the media and in the opinion of the general public.