By Phineas J. Stone
Like a birthday or a sanctioned holiday, the beginning of warmer weather always brings a horrific dose of street violence to Boston.
Not everywhere though.
In fact, I’ve come to realize it’s a distinct section of the city – right in the very middle – that I have come to call the State of Lawlessness (hereafter called the ’State’). In that part of the city, just about anything goes and so much more is tolerated by police, neighbors, businesses and young people than is tolerated outside of the State. Things that are tolerated run from trash to bad behavior to inappropriate language to crazy scooter drivers to, eventually, murder – which at this time of year, is only expected in the State.
South End resident Eric Huong explained it in this paper earlier in the spring quite to my liking. It’s the little things that lead to the bigger things, he said.
“I believe the small things lead to bigger things and when there is a constant state of lawlessness, it leads to greater lawlessness,” he said, quite correctly.
So, last week, we had the horrific shooting of a student outside the Burke High School, which is well within the State. Others might not know that on the same day a student at Brighton High, which is typically outside the State, was arrested with a handgun inside the school. I’ll note the student resided in the State. Later on, also within the State and just down from the Burke, a young man on a scooter was arrested with a gun after he accidentally rammed his scooter into a light pole.
In the interim within the State there have been murders, major drug arrests, shootings by small children on small children (and I mean like ages 11-15), crazy scooter operators weaving through traffic on one wheel without restriction, loud outdoor parties that shake the floorboards of homes blocks away, and probably about 1 billion tons of trash simply tossed onto the streets for “someone else” to deal with. All this news coming directly from the State.
And I’m sure I’ve forgotten something.
The point is that the Police in certain districts – primarily the State – don’t seem to be concerned about the little things. I’ve observed that they are often so busy with bigger things, that they believe they can’t focus on the smaller things. The irony is that if they squashed the smaller things residents on the right side of the law often complain about – they wouldn’t be running to as many bigger crimes. A shooting at a high school in Boston doesn’t just materialize in one day. It’s an incremental thing that builds up with one small thing – perhaps cursing and bad behavior at dismissal – and then a few bigger things – perhaps driving a scooter head on into oncoming traffic on a busy city street – then then, by and by, the shooting comes.
I have seen it for so many years in the State that I could predict it with the accuracy of Nostradamus.
And so where is the State?
Well, if I were to take out a map, I could draw a very distinct boundary. It seems to start in the South End and weave its way down Washington Street and over to Columbus Avenue and straight down around Mission Hill and into Jamaica Plain (though it doesn’t go too far into JP these days). Of course it encompasses all of Mattapan, Dorchester, parts of Hyde Park and then loops back up to the South End via the Expressway – probably starting and ending on the corner of East Berkeley and Albany Street. However, it must be mentioned that the State has shrunk over time. It was once much bigger, went into South Boston, all of the South End and parts of the Back Bay, but the transformation of Boston has caused the State to condense a bit – though it has only meant that the nonsense and serious crimes have concentrated into a smaller area. Gentrification has pushed the State into a compact zone, and I’d like to give two-thumbs up to gentrification for that nice piece of news – gentrification being a word that gets so much hostility thrown towards it.
The neighborhoods outside of those boundaries are also represented by the Sun, and it’s a highly different situation. Naturally, they have their problems too, but far less is tolerated. Were there crazy scooter kids armed with guns hanging out in their parks and occasionally shooting one another, I tend to think it wouldn’t continue for very long.
Can you imagine a teen-ager on a four-wheeler popping up on two wheels, no shirt on, and going about 40 mph through the Esplanade – nearly taking out joggers and women with baby carriages?
It wouldn’t happen, and if it did happen, then it would only happen once.
In the State, it’s a daily routine. We witness it all the time if we live or work in the State.
And then comes the inevitable call for those of us in the State who see the end result – usually a horrific shooting or violent attack – to come forward and spill our guts. I’m all for putting an end to the ‘Snitch’ culture. I hate it and would do anything to defeat it.
But when the mayor and police commissioner stand in the State and lecture us about coming forward and being witnesses, they miss a very important point that those outside the State commonly miss.
That point: when there is a constant State of Lawlessness, who is going to protect those who cooperate from the lawlessness that will likely visit our doorsteps in any numbers of ways once the TV cameras leave the area. I’ve seen witnesses over the years who came forward and had their tires slashed. I’ve heard of witnesses coming forward and actually getting viciously murdered. Others have been assaulted or approached at their children’s schools. I’ve even read and heard about members of state juries being followed to their homes in the State and intimidated by friends of the accused.
The authorities can implore us in the State to help them, but they can’t be everywhere to protect us when those who want silence pay a visit. When the dust settles, and we’re still in the State living our lives, are the police going to be providing a 24-hour detail to protect those who cooperate? It’s a hard thing to understand and a point that isn’t easy to argue. When you have to show your face in the State after helping authorities, there can be consequences to your safety.
Bottom Line: Someone got killed. Do you want to be next?
There has to be a better way to do things, and I believe a massive crackdown on these quality of life issues – an end to the toleration of lawlessness, small and large – in the area I’m calling the State could have a dramatic effect. It’s time to stop tolerating the “adult children” and the young adults who progressively grow bolder until they commit or help commit heinous acts.
I remember a short time ago complaining to the police about a small issue that was growing out of control. They understood and sympathized, but there was just an unwillingness to put an end to the problem. There were 100 ways I suggested that they approach the problem, and they were all well received, but in the end the officers suggested that maybe I should consider moving.
It’s tempting at this time of year, but I don’t see U-Haul in my future.