I had seen Pastor Bruce Wall's call to take back his community last week and had contacted him offering my support. I had never met him, but had read about him for years.
Last night was the first night of the retaking of Lyndhurst Street.
5 pm--Kick-off---Pastor Wall started us out praying for the street corner, and we all sang some inspirational songs. There were about a dozen people and half a dozen press. Rev. Wall, spoke as well as some community leaders, Rev. Rivers, Felix Arroyo and I.
(where were all the politicians? where was the mayor? Here is a man putting himself into harms way, to fight back against drugs, and all the people who talk about the need for this aren't there)
We went and blessed one of the known drug houses in the neighborhood, and then we blessed the apartment we were going to be staying in, that had been donated by a local CDC for the week. It was clean, but sparse. Felix Arroyo announced that he too would stay the night, something I had offered as well.
During this time Maura Hennigan showed up and made a speech just before we blessed the apartment, then a bit later (when the press was in full swing) Senator Jack Hart showed up.
At this point the groups (and more and more people had begun to show up so there were around 20-30 residents and a dozen reporters) started to split up. I noticed the politicians stayed out front and talked to the reporters, as some of the community people who had just been praised went back to their stoop on Lyndurst Street. So, I went to Lyndhurst Street and talked to the residents about what the bad houses were, what they did for work, how to try and take control of the neighborhood by making the city accountable. Take dates, times, pictures phone numbers, call the police and ask for names and badge numbers so if you say there is no response, you have real information to pass on. They said, what is going to happen in a week? How can we rat someone out when we know something is going to happen in retaliation. They want to take control of their neighborhood, but they are skeptical that the city will help them.
Aside----when I saw Jack Hart in the hallway and shook hands, I told him that we hadn't been able to get in touch with his Ward in South Boston. He asked why would I want to get in touch with them? I said "well, because I'm a democratic candidate and I'd like to talk to the democrats in the city" He indicated that they don't regularly meet and only if there is something to discuss. I said "well, there is a city election going on." He said that he would get back to me this week and tell me if or when they were going to be doing anything.
I felt like I was talking to the politburo chief. Why would they want to have a meeting to let candidates present their ideas, they know who they are going to vote for already.
(We have been trying to contact their ward for months and had been told to contact Sen. Hart, whose office never gave us any information about when a ward meeting would be. We have been having this problem with many wards throughout the city, I'm not sure democracy is alive and well in the cradle of liberty)
Later on last night we convened at the apartment, around 10 pm, the guys go takeout (from Quincy). There were about 8 or 9 of us, with Pastor Wall and his young son Jeremy, Felix and I, and friends of the ministry. After watching the nightly news, we went back out for another neighborhood walk. We spent about 2.5 hours walking the street en masse.
What we found:
-Trash everywhere. The square is disgustingly squalid. It shows how much the Mayor knows the people in this neighborhood don't count. Usually when he knows that an event is going to go on (like the Puerto Rican festival earlier in the day) he will send out the street sweepers and make the city look clean in that area for the press. That token of caring wasn't even spent in this corner of the city.
-Graffitti. Many of the buildings, businesses and structures had graffitti all over them. This includes the post office, which has had its public light on Lyndhurst Street broken, so that area is in darkness.
-People. We spoke to the people around the neighborhood who were suspicious at first but supportive after we had spoken to them. But still skeptical.
-Police. The police had assigned a car to keep an eye on us. We were traveling as a group. The squad car stayed with us for about 20 minutes but then left, not to return. Later, when our group was talking with a group of young adults on a side street so that a passer by would see a large group of blacks hanging out on the sidewalk, a group of police officers swooped in from both sides of the one way street, one group in an unmarked car, just to see what was going on.
What was going on was that two groups of people from the neighborhood were getting together and talking. In fact, they had even been praying together less than 20 minutes earlier. A lively set of talks was going on, talking about drugs, race, racial profiling, the problems of getting jobs in the community, how hard it is to stay clean when the street is dragging you back in, meanwhile the members of our group were talking to them in their own language about how to get help, how to be and stay positive.
Amazingly, even with the disturbance by the police the positive vibe continued and the talks went on well past midnight.
-An abandoned kitten. (More later)
-Thanks. I spoke to two women who were walking down the street at around 1 a.m. who said that this was the quietest the street had been for as long as they could remember. Usually there are gunshots going on, and you couldn't walk down Washington Street. They were very nice and offered to buy me a drink at the 24 hour store. They were thankful, and hopeful it would continue.
-Drugs. While members of the group were talking to the youths on the side street, I meandered over to Washington Street to see what was going on. (Big Thanks to MBTA Chief Carter who kept his wary eye on me all night, afraid this young white guy was going to get into trouble. However, part of my childhood was spent as the only white kid in a neighborhood where drugs were being used and sold all the time, as was (is?) the case in the south end where I am now, and the surroundings were not unfamiliar)
I wanted to find out where the drugs were coming from, and so I asked a couple people whom I thought were likely selling drugs and sure enough, in a few minutes time I had two guys competing for my drug sale. One man was a bald black man, who "recognized" me from the hood. He indicated there was an apartment in the brick buildings (where we were staying) where I could get anything I wanted, marijuana, cocaine and it was just two blocks away as he indicated in the direction.
The other couple, and the one I first started talking to was hispanic, he in his 30's, she maybe a bit older. They were looking for the kitten she had seen. So, I was helping them look for the kitten and building up a sense of trust (and acting a bit odd). They asked if I was a cop. When we couldn't find the cat, the woman returned to the park in Codman square. Then the negotiating began between myself, the black guy and the hispanic guy. The hispanic guy told me that I could get whatever I wanted, that the woman gets everything delivered to her and I could have it there in now time. The black guy kept saying he could deliver the product quicker, he was just up the street. Unfortuneately, or fortuneately, I only had $10 bucks on me. A police cruiser zoomed by and we began to break up, with me keeping my options open with both guys so I could confer with the group on what to do.
Mind you, this was happening out in the open on Washington Street while the Chief was watching me from across the street, and the other group members were 50 yards up the sidestreet in my view. You know you have a drug problem when a white guy in a black neighborhood can get whatever he wants on a street where its been publicly announced that there is going to be a neighborhood watch and an increased police presence.
--Around 1:30 we returned to our beds, said goodnight to a Boston Globe reporter and debriefed. I fell asleep on my sleeping bag on my linoleum floor in just a couple minutes.
I'll be back later this week and give an update. But this is where more public officials should be because this is a disease wrecking the whole community. I salute Pastor Wall and all the guys and members of the community coming out to take back the 'hood.