South End Neighbors Discuss Chester Square Shooting, Ways to Move Forward

The South End community had a discussion with D-4 Capt. Steven Sweeney, City Councilor Kim Janey, City Councilor Michelle Wu, Representative Jon Santiago, and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz via Zoom on May 27 regarding the shooting in Chester Square on May 16. The meeting was organized by Chester Square Neighbors, the Claremont Neighborhood Association, and the Worcester Square Neighborhood Association.

Residents were invited ahead of time to submit questions for Sweeney and the elected officials, many of which were addressed in their remarks.  More than 60 people tuned into the meeting to learn more about the incident as well as what they can do to help move forward.

“One neighbor described it as the Wild West,” Chester Square Neighbors president Carol Blair said. On May 16 at approximately 2:13pm, D-4 officers responded to a radio call for someone with a gun at 134 Northampton St., Boston Police Commissioner William Gross said at a recent press conference.

After officers identified a man who fit the description, they went to talk to the suspect, which he refused to do, and fled down Mass. Ave. towards Chester Park.

“During the pursuit, the suspect discharged his firearm at the responding Boston Police officers,” Gross said. “Being in fear of their lives as well as the pedestrians, people that are on these streets with their families, being in fear, they returned fire, they discharged their weapon at the suspect to stop the threat. In turn, the suspect fired his weapon to lock back, that means he exhausted all of his ammunition. The officers apprehended the suspect where he violently struggled.” Gross said that the suspect was released from prison in January, but no other information about him was provided as the investigation is ongoing.

Gross said that four officers went to the hospital “where they could be medically evaluated,” but no one was injured. He added that he has spoken with Mayor Walsh and District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who he said are both “highly upset” about this incident.

“The officers went to talk to him, he fled and he fired his weapon to lock back. I don’t think he cares for anybody on this street,” Gross said of the suspect. “This is your neighborhood—nobody should be releasing repeat violent offenders that will act like this. This is unheard of. A main thoroughfare. Great people in this neighborhood. Businesses, a park, people around, and this guy turns and fires in broad daylight.”                                   

  In light of this situation, Blair said the purpose of this virtual gathering was to “learn what we can about what happened and how we might move forward.”

Sweeney reiterated that this is “still an ongoing active investigation,” so he was unable to provide some of the specific details of the case, such as the number of shots fired.

Sweeney said that he “understands people’s concern” about this incident, and that “we don’t come to work expecting to be shot at.”

He also said that District 4 is “one of the safest districts in the city,” and said that this incident was unrelated to the opioid crisis.

He said police presence will be increased in areas like Mass/Cass and Chester Park. “We’re working on a summer plan right now and it entails having presence in the park,” he said. “We do our best. We can’t hit every park every day.”

He said that issues on the Southwest Corridor are under the jurisdiction of the State Police, but “we usually get there first,” he said.                  

City Council president Kim Janey said that pre-COVID-19, there were issues with violence in the city as well as the opioid epidemic, mental health issues, and “unresolved trauma.”

She said, “when we add onto this COVID-19 and how the economy is being devastated, we see people who are being released.” She said that she is “all for compassionate release,” and “if there is a nonviolent history and the person is better off on the outside, let’s help them.”

Janey said she’s seen “violence bubbling up” in parts of her district and in others across the city, and part of the solution is to address the issues of mental health, trauma and economic impact of the virus and the injustices that existed before the pandemic hit. She called it a “very complex issue,” but it’s “important that we’re having this conversation.”

Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz said that she is used to having community meetings “in the wake of shootings,” and said that it’s “an experience I don’t wish on anyone.”

As far as next steps, Chang-Diaz said that “this is a very dire concern of mine as we head into the summer,” calling it a “sort of pressure cooker situation.” She said this is the case more so in other neighborhoods of the City than the South End, though “the South End is not immune to this.”

She said that pre-existing gun violence will be exacerbated by issues caused by the pandemic, and in Boston citywide, there was a doubling of shootings this April compared to last April. “I view it as directly related to mental and economic stressors,” Chang-Diaz said, though she added she wasn’t sure what the motive was of the individual who was apprehended in the Chester Square shooting.

“This individual was someone who was released in January because his sentence wrapped,” she said.

“Pushing for increased prevention resources is a big priority of mine,” she said. “We need your help.” She said that this summer, prevention resources “will be most relevant for the immediate term.”

Rep. Jon Santiago said that as a resident of Tremont St. and someone who walks down Northampton St. nearly every day, “this hits home for me. Gun violence hits me hard.” He said that as an emergency room doctor at Boston Medical Center, he “takes care of these folks,” some of whom do not make it out of the hospital.

City Councilor Michelle Wu said that making sure to put resources in place and coming up with a recovery plan for the pandemic to “address the underlying crises that have led us to this place in the first place” is part of the solution.

Bob Barney, president of the Claremont Neighborhood Association, said that he has noticed some disconnect between four separate police entities in the neighborhood: Boston Police, State Police, Northeastern University Police, and Transit Police. 

“I think there’s some opportunity or synergies to connect those police agencies better,” Barney said.

“We have a great working relationship with the Northeastern police department,” Sweeney said, adding that that are always in touch with state police. “Any issues you have, we’ll address them with those entities if people are having issues.”

There was also discussion on surveillance cameras and where and if they should be located within the community.

Barney said he is “not 100 percent sold on cameras, but I do think they’re a deterrent” and could work in areas “with continued issues” like Titus Sparrow Park.

“Cameras help us,” Sweeney said. “There are a lot of road blocks of getting them in certain places. It’s a work in progress.”

He also said that more officers on bikes would be “out and about” in the area patrolling.

Boston Parks Commissioner Ryan Woods said that Titus Sparrow Park is going through a “much needed” full process for redesign, which could help be a part of the solution. He also mentioned recent renovations at Peters Park as well as Ramsay Park, which will also receive renovations.

There was also further discussion on the opioid crisis and getting services to those who need them.

The last part of the discussion was focused on what the neighborhood can do, which included  things like looking into the installation of cameras, and cleaning alleys.

Chang-Diaz also talked about gun safety laws and mentioned a bill about crime gun data and “doing more robust analysis of fun crime data than we have as a state.. She said that “supply lines of illegal guns is an issue I’ve become more focused on over the years.”

Karen Mauney-Brodek, a South End resident and president of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy. suggested a socially distanced activity in the parks, such as an exercise class, “just to show how we can all use and love the park.” She also suggested writing a letter in support of the gun safety law mentioned by Senator Chang-Diaz

“One of the things we haven’t touched on is an essential need for us to begin to address the revenue we’re going to get from the state,” said Steve Fox, moderator of the South End Forum.  He saids there needs to be a “dedicated effort towards temporary and permanent supportive housing. I think the pandemic has demonstrated to all of us how the shelter environment can’t really cop with what we’ve been faced with.”

He added that the City cannot continue to “rely on universities to turn over their dorms for us in order to be able to move beyond a primary diagnosis.”

Carol Blair said, “I hope this will light a fire and these connections will multiply.”

For now, Sweeney said the criminal investigation is ongoing and a firearm discharge team has taken over the investigation. The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office is also involved. There are “many moving parts,” he said.

Blair said that anyone should feel free to follow up with the neighborhood associations on this matter.

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