Cambridge struggles with fireworks attacks

Submitted photo/CPD
The Cambridge Police Department confiscated fireworks, including these, in recent days.

CAMBRIDGE — “Our firefighters are being assaulted,” Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley said during a City Council conference call on Thursday afternoon.
It’s not only firefighters, either — police officers have been in the line of fire in recent nights, as storms of fireworks have been ignited in the streets of the city.
Police patrols and firefighters responding to incidents have been met with verbal abuse, physical attacks and more. “One of our officers had fireworks thrown or shot at them,” in the 800 block of Phillips Street on Wednesday night, CPD Capt. Justin Todd said in an earlier conversation with the Banner.
That assault caused minor damage to the officer’s vehicle. “No one is in custody for that as of yet,” Capt. Todd said.
Residents of this usually quiet town have been losing sleep and sometimes feeling threatened in their own homes, as loud explosives have been set off, sometimes all night long. Those who live in other neighborhoods might not see it in their own streets, but many have heard the loud booms echoing across the city.
Incidents have occurred not only on Phillips Street, but also Greenwood Avenue, South Pine, Central Avenue and other areas. “It’s all over town,” the mayor said.
The meeting got off to a rocky start, as the numbers of residents calling in to listen or comment exceeded the limit of 40, causing some council members to have trouble getting linked in. After that was straightened out, the mayor, commissioners, City Attorney Chip MacLeod, State’s Attorney Bill Jones, Rescue Fire Company Chief Adam Pritchett and City Manager Patrick Comiskey were on the line to examine the issue, as were about three dozen citizens.
The council is gathering comments from the public and findings of fact from the Cambridge Police Department necessary to impose a curfew on city residents under the age of 18 in an effort to deter late-night incidents including the pyrotechnic disruptions. That’s not something that simply be declared, however.
“There is a process to doing this,” Mr. MacLeod said, beginning with recommendations from law enforcement.
“Curfews can be tricky, but they can be navigated, if done so carefully,” Mr. Jones said. The facts presented to the council would have to justify the curfew, he said, which itself should be no more restrictive than necessary.
“There are certain things we have to be careful about, in terms of making sure the curfew, if enacted, is applied fairly and equally to all parts of town,” Mr. Jones said. “It would have to be carefully written, and carefully executed, by your officers.”
Cambridge Police Department Chief Mark Lewis said, “It would be a limited tool for our officers to use in situations. There is a juvenile issue, a problem in some areas, and that would be used as a last resort,” to help get juveniles to return to their homes.
Five men were arrested earlier this week, as the CPD tries to bring the situation under control. Richard Blanks Jr., 31; Byron Herndon, 29; Donnell Jones, 25; Naail Thompson, 20; and Tyonbre McKnight, 19 were charged with discharge of of fireworks without a permit and related offenses.
Chief Pritchett said his organization has been stretched thin by emergencies caused during the incidents. “We’ve had five fires since Friday, directly from fireworks,” he said.
Though the men charged in connection with the discharges of explosive devices are not minors, there have been reports of children, some quite young, being on the streets at all hours. “How do we hold parents responsible?” Mayor Jackson-Stanley asked.
Mr. Jones said there are legal avenues through which parents can be held responsible for the actions of minor children, including violation of curfews.
Citizen Lynette Wongus called for quick action and an increased police presence in neighborhoods — in person, not only in their patrol cars. “People are afraid, in their own apartments,” she said.
“We will have officers working overtime,” Chief Lewis said.
Ms. Wongus didn’t leave it all up to law enforcement, as she urged residents to speak up to protect their community. “As residents, we need to step up,” she said.
The need to allow public comment required another meeting to be scheduled, this one for Tuesday at 5 p.m., on townhallstreams.com. The mayor and council acknowledged that public comment had been limited by the technical difficulties, and asked that citizens email their comments on these issues to Mr. Comiskey at pcomiskey@choosecambridge.com.
He will forward the comments to the mayor and council by Saturday, allowing them to consider citizens’ views before Tuesday’s meeting.

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