Image by Tak Toyoshima
Nothing short of record-setting snowfalls can rattle New England these days. As the new cliche goes, with simultaneous trials underway for admitted Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and for New England Patriot-turned-accused-killer Aaron Hernandez, the Hub already packs sufficient insanity. But the alleged “execution-style” shooting of a 17-year-old English High School student by Shaun O. Harrison Sr., one of his deans and a community reverend for whom the teen was reportedly selling weed, served to rile residents aplenty, and to chew even the nerves of those immune to being fazed.
Beyond the Walter White-inspired headlines (see: “Breaking Bad in Boston,” Boston Herald, 3.10.15), there’s an even more depraved story. One that involves child molestation and the black clergy, topics rarely found commingling in mainstream multimedia, in New England or anyplace else. You’d think journalists would seize the opportunity to pile on; since the shooting almost two weeks ago, however, there has been scant mention of the chaos preceding the attack, which continues to confuse and concern Greater Bostonians.
In the wake of the incident earlier this month, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh asked for help, demanded answers. He said in a statement, “It’s critical that, in addition to a criminal investigation, we take a thorough look at [Harrison’s] employment within our public school system to ensure that we are taking the necessary steps to protect students throughout the city.” To help serve that interest, and in hopes that the “comprehensive look” at Harrison will net more than just his BPS and criminal careers, we thought to dredge up the horrendous backstory that may have spurred his breaking evil.
As revealed by then-Boston Herald crime reporter Michele McPhee in 2007, long before Harrison was arrested for his own offenses and his face was splashed across page one, it appears that members of his family were preyed on, namely his youngest son, P. Edward Harrison. After being hospitalized for depression in 2006, P. Edward reported that he had been molested by Rev. Lawrence Brown at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in the South End from 2004 to 2005. In interviews with McPhee, an 18-year-old Harrison explained:
[Brown] would rub my back by giving me a massage and touch my private places. He would put his hands down my shorts … He had me sleep in the same bed when everyone was asleep (on a camping trip in New Hampshire) and started touching (me).
Though P. Edward said the abuse commenced when he was 14, he didn’t go public until years later. Church leaders at Mount Calvary, meanwhile, chose to discipline Brown internally, without calling police, after he confessed to co-workers, his victim’s parents, and others. The naughty reverend was dispatched to a retreat where he sought redemption in Christ, and was eventually welcomed back into the fold at Mount Calvary. This despite a public admission and a letter from 2005, reportedly sent by Brown to Harrison the elder and his wife. Furnished to the Herald in 2007, it read, in part:
I know that God has forgiven me . . . I really do want you to both know how sorry I am and that I want to even be restored in your eyes. I cannot imagine what you must feel.
All things considered, it seems that, like his son, Rev. Harrison was emotionally wounded in the ordeal. When the story first broke, he criticized the office of Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley for its lack of follow-up. “This is a slap in the face that Larry Brown is still out on the streets,” Harrison told McPhee. Moving forward, as Roxbury activist and Blackstonian publisher Jamarhl Crawford noted in a recent column, Harrison apparently unraveled soon thereafter. He and his wife even split, in part due to her alleged reluctance to press criminal charges against Brown, who is also her first cousin. Other members of Boston’s ministerial community who knew about what happened, including a former head of the Ten-Point Coalition, also failed to tell authorities. In their comments to the Herald, church honchos made their allegiances clear:
One Mount Calvary official, the Rev. George Bullock, who is the alleged victim’s grandfather, refused to say why the church did not report the substance of Brown’s alleged confession to authorities. “I’m not interested in talking about Larry Brown and something he did two years ago. Everything was taken care of properly through the system. That’s all I am going to say,” Bullock said.
Another church official, Betty Baxter, the wife of the Rev. Parnell Baxter, was asked why the allegations were not reported – as required by law. “This boy is 18 years old,” she said. “He should have reported it himself. All the necessary steps were taken. Larry Brown went to get help, and he was reinstated recently.”
While the lord sorts out the verdict on that front, there’s hell on Earth to pay for he or she who is responsible for letting Harrison around teenagers. It’s crazy to indict the whole of Boston Public Schools for the actions of one damaged individual, but the situation calls attention to the danger of administrators and teachers being made to play musical chairs in their assignments. Not unlike the way deviant collars are shuffled between parishes, ineffective and in certain cases toxic educators are moved recklessly from school to school. Between reporting by the major papers and releases by police, it has come out that Harrison was previously cited by school officials in 2012 for pushing a student at Green Academy in Brighton. And there’s more: Though he’s only been in BPS since 2010, Harrison worked at three schools before arriving at English as a dean in January. To further confuse matters, he also has an older son facing charges of shooting his girlfriend in an alleged accident two years ago.
All of which should be considered in the ongoing investigations, from the one being performed by the law to that which DigBoston and no doubt several other outlets are conducting, into whatever the heck happened this month. The case is infinitely complex, a thriller fit for Law & Order if there ever was one; for authorities examining matters though, it’s probably best to ignore everything that Harrison’s fellow ministers say about the situation. Like most members of the media, they’re conveniently ignoring the part when several preachers let his son’s molester off the hook. Take, for example, a March 6 Herald column by Peter Gelzinis. In addition to noting that Harrison was at one time employed by Charles Street A.M.E. Church under Rev. Dr. Gregory Groover, who just recently stepped down from the Boston School Committee, Gelzinis opened the floor for anonymous reverends to crucify their former colleague:
Another minister traced Shaun Harrison’s downfall to his inability to take orders. “If you’re going to do church work,” the preacher said, “you’re going to need a boss to hold you accountable, especially if you’re going to work with, and minister to, troubled kids. Shaun always seemed more intent on going his own way.
“And that can be dangerous. You can lose all perspective. And that’s what I think happened. Shaun appears to have crossed the line, between advocating and working with troubled kids … to hooking up with them.”
To be continued …
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.