At approximately the same time France’s Consul General Fabien Fieschi was getting a tour of Codman Academy in Dorchester, Willie Gross was standing a mile away, outside a four-story brick apartment building on Esmond Street in another part of Dorchester.
Like Monsieur Fieschi, Willie Gross is something of a diplomat. He is also chief of the Boston Police Department and he stood between the apartment building where he grew up and one where, moments before his arrival, two morons with guns made the fatal mistake of trying to rob someone who also had a gun.
One of the would-be robbers was shot dead. The other, an 18-year-old Mensa member named Cedrick Slayden, was arrested after some terrific police work.
As Fieschi strolled the sparkling corridors of Codman Academy, Willie Gross tried to reassure his old neighbors that everything was under control.
The students at Codman had tried to confront Fieschi in November, to protest his government’s casual dismissal of Dorchester as a crime-ridden hellhole best avoided by French tourists. But when the Codman kids showed up at the French consulate in the Back Bay sans invitation they were treated like 16th-century English invaders and told to “filer!”
Hector Lawrence, one of the students, said he and his classmates don’t like the idea of a foreign government stereotyping Dorchester, and I’m with Hector.
But it’s too easy to beat up the French on this, because the reality is that most people in the Boston suburbs, not to mention other neighborhoods in the city, would hold very similar views about the wisdom of walking around certain Boston neighborhoods, especially after dark.
The biggest problem with the French government’s warning to its citizens to avoid walking around Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan during the day, and to stay away completely at night, is that it is ridiculously simplistic and wildly unspecific.
Dorchester is not so much a neighborhood as a collection of different, distinct neighborhoods, some 100,000 people spread out in a variety of neighborhoods, some nicer than others. Codman Square isn’t Adams Village. Meetinghouse Hill isn’t Clam Point.
Even proximity can mislead. You can spit between Jones Hill and Savin Hill and those neighborhoods are very different places.
Now, if the French told its citizens it is probably not a good idea to hang around the corner of Bowdoin and Geneva at night, it would be hard to raise an objection.
But why just pick on Dorchester? Or Roxbury? Or Mattapan? There are bars in Southie I wouldn’t walk into during the daytime, let alone at night, when the denizens are half in the wrapper and less inclined to discuss 17th-century French literature with some slumming interloper.
Last May, before he got locked up for the attempted home invasion that got his alleged accomplice killed, the aforementioned Cedrick Slayden was charged with robbing a man of his iPhone. That crime took place not in Dorchester, but the North End. That’s the same North End, full of tourists, where, on occasion, police have warned women to be wary at night.
A couple of days before Willie Gross was standing outside that apartment building on Esmond Street, surveying a crime scene and congratulating his officers for a job well done, he was on the same block, shaking hands with his old neighbors who were delighted to see a local boy made good. They no doubt felt safer.
Within 24 hours of the armed home invasion on Esmond Street, there were two more in Dorchester, more than a mile apart, more than a mile from Esmond Street.
Meanwhile, the students’ demand that the French government retract its blanket warning about Dorchester was met with a polite but firm “absolument pas’’ from Monsieur Fieschi. He tried to give them hope, pointing out that French citizens are no longer warned to avoid the Combat Zone.
Of course, he left out the fact that the Combat Zone doesn’t exist anymore. These days, if we want strip joints, we can always go to Paris.