Cambridge Council discusses shootings, fireworks: No curfew

CAMBRIDGE — In a special meeting on Tuesday afternoon, the Cambridge City Council considered responses to a series of late-night disruptions in the city, several nights of which included fireworks, sometimes used as weapons. At a meeting last week, council members considered imposing a curfew on individuals under the age of 18.

No vote on a curfew was taken Tuesday, after it became known that much of the trouble — including five arrests last week — came from individuals in their 20s and 30s.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, four persons were shot at a party on Weaver Drive. They were hospitalized. While the investigation is continuing, no arrests have been made.

Five fires in recent days were caused by fireworks, Chief Adam Pritchett of Rescue Fire Company reported last week, while emergency crews and police have been insulted and attacked when responding to incidents.
As Tuesday’s meeting began, Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley said, “I’ve gotten lots of calls.” One was from a man who recounted his experience, with a person offering to sell him fireworks from his trunk.
“So people importing fireworks into our community is part of this,” the mayor said.

“What are we going to do to make our citizens feel safe?” Commissioner LaShon Foster (Ward 3) asked.
Commissioner Donald Sydnor (Ward 2) said the council has been trying to get cameras installed near the Housing Authority. He suggested getting drones for the city police, saying, “We could see some of the hot spots in Cambridge.”

“Concerning Weaver Avenue,” he said, “I think that we failed the citizens as far as protection.” He said many senior citizens were sitting at home, feeling that they were in a war zone, afraid to go to sleep.
Commissioner Foster said, “We need a fully staffed police department.” She said the police and fire departments need more staff and equipment.
Commissioner Robert Hanson (Ward 5) said of police jobs, “The positions that were frozen need to be filled.”

Commissioner Dave Cannon (Ward 4) agreed that a drone and hiring more officers would be a favorable move. “I wasn’t aware of streets being blocked,” he said about the situation at some of the parties. “I’m just wondering why we allowed it to happen.”
There were parties last week on Greenwood Avenue, Cornish Drive and Weaver Street, as well as South Pine Street.

Lynette Wongus called in to the meeting and said, “This is nothing new.” There were always parades for July 4th, she said. But what is different this year, is that there were problems before Independence Day.
“It wasn’t important for some of you,” she said, “because it’s not in your neighborhood.”
“We do have a problem in this city. We do have people coming from out of town, to see certain people and stay in certain houses, and cause a ruckus,” Ms. Wongus said.

Commissioner Steve Rideout (Ward 1) said regarding fireworks, “None of these people had permits. So we have the law in effect to use in addressing these issues.” People who own the property where the fireworks are being used can also be charged.
“What we really have to do, is start taking a holistic approach to the challenge,” he said, adding that Tuesday’s discussion is a reaction to something that has already occurred. Relying on county agencies to address issues “just hasn’t worked,” he said.

“We can’t keep going on and on without doing something for the children here,” he said. More police and drones, he said, “Means we’re so far off the target, we might as well close up shop.”
Many citizens called in to share their views. One woman identified as Ms. Towanda said, “Putting cameras in the Black part of town is not going to help.” She added that people of other races gather in town, and they are not under observation.
Commissioner Foster responded to the comment on camera placement, saying the police install them where the most violent crimes occur. She also said more community policing is needed.

State’s Attorney for Dorchester County Bill Jones said the fireworks issue seems to be slowing down somewhat. As for a curfew, “Most of our issues are really coming from young adults,” so a curfew of teens would not address the issue effectively.
He told the council that a curfew would have to be applied in all areas of the city, not only some neighborhoods. Currently, he said police face an “incredibly difficult” situation in managing large crowds without making the incident worse.

He said the city should make it clear that if individuals come from out of town to cause trouble in Cambridge, that it will not be tolerated. “It’s the 20-somethings we have to figure out,” Mr. Jones said, adding that he supports any program aimed at giving children activities.
Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley said of fireworks, “They are being shot at people. They are being used as weapons,” as she asked City Attorney Chip MacLeod if there is a law on the books regarding using the devices this way.
There is nothing on the books regarding improper use, though pyrotechnics are already illegal in the state.

“Where do we go from here?” the mayor asked the council.
“We need to include the community,” Commissioner Foster said, advocating a meeting in a place with health precautions in place. “Public safety cannot be second-guessed. Public safety has to be a priority.”
“The funding is always going to be the trick,” Mayor Jackson-Stanley said.
Chief Mark Lewis said regarding drones, his department has $25,000 that could be used for the devices.
“We at the police department cannot do it ourselves,” Chief Mark Lewis said, adding that help from the community is crucial. “We have four people shot on Weaver Avenue, with 200 people there, and no one sees a thing.”
“No one would report what they saw?” the mayor asked him.
“That is correct,” Chief Lewis said.

After discussing the issues for almost an hour, the council adjourned the meeting. There were no votes on actions to be taken.