(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2012)
Over 500 residents packed the Tynan Community Center Monday night for a public safety meeting. Spilling into the center’s quad and balcony, residents eagerly listened to what elected officials and law enforcement plan to do about the drug problem in South Boston and the violence that goes along with it.
“This is a defining time for our community,” said Representative Nick Collins. “This is a critical point and I think we live in a great community and it’s worth fighting for and we are in for a fight.”
While Monday’s meeting was a partial response to the recent murder of Barbara Coyne, a 67 year-old South Boston resident, many in attendance acknowledged that the crime, drug use, and violence in the neighborhood isn’t a new thing and something has to be done.
“Can we admit there is a substance about problem in Southie?” said Leah Winters, 42. “I’m sorry we have to be here, but we do have to be here and we need to do this.”
According to the Boston Public Health Commission’s “Substance Abuse in Boston” report, published in 2011, South Boston has the second highest rate of opioid treatment admission and has the highest rate in the city of heroin/opioid mortality. The neighborhood also had the highest rate of heavy alcohol consumption in 2008 among adults and has the third highest rate of alcohol mortality.
But while the numbers are not new to residents, with many admitting that they have had substance problems in their own families, many were more interested in what was going to be done.
Boston Police Department Commissioner Edward Davis, along with District Attorney Daniel Conley, representatives from the Massachusetts State Police, and representatives with the Drug Enforcement Agency were on hand Monday, to lay out a plan for residents that they believe will stem the problem and help residents sleep a little sounder at night.
“We will have justice in this case [Barbara Coyne's death] there is no question in my mind,” said Davis. “The city will respond in a way that will make a difference in your life.”
Davis laid out three steps the city will be taking to address crime and safety in the neighborhood of more than 33,000.
The first step according to Davis is the addition to the neighborhood of “task force of drug officers” who will work in the neighborhood during the day and will concentrate of the street level drug use, instead of the search for the dealers.
Police officers on bikes will also be added to the Andrew Square neighborhood of South Boston to tackle the growing “quality of life” concerns in the square that has two methadone clinics within close proximity. Neighbors in the past have raised concerns about the patients of the clinics use of recreational drugs and their disregard for the neighborhood and those who live in it.
Two additional police officers on bikes will also be added to the neighborhood to strictly patrol Broadway from the MBTA station to the beach, and according to Davis, BPD and MSP will be working closely with each other to share resources and knowledge.
While the announcement by Davis of a stepped up effort on the city’s part was welcome news for many in attendance, residents also called for prevention and treatment, saying many in the neighborhood need help escaping the endless cycle of drugs.
“We are all hyped up about the heroin and Oxycontin, but I can tell where they start and it’s with marijuana and alcohol,” said John McGahan, president of the Gavin Foundation, an organization that works to rehabilitate and reintegrate people with criminal histories and substance abuse problems. “We have to start young, we have to say it’s not acceptable. If you catch you son or daughter drinking, smoking marijuana, don’t wait for the police to be called call the Gavin Foundation.”
Residents while looking for support from the police were also calling for neighbors to take action and responsibility for what is happening in the neighborhood.
“One thing people were concerned about was we have 500 – 700 people here but what are the next steps for people to do?” said Ed Flynn, 43, a South Boston resident.
After the meeting Flynn said the community needs to come together and start the work now.
"We will be judged on not what is said at this meeting - but on how we respond to this public safety crisis. It is critical that we stay united as a neighborhood as we strive for a better quality of life and more police protection,” said Flynn. “I would like to call for a South Boston Citizens Task Force, made up of members of the South Boston neighborhood, to work closely with the Boston Police, elected officials, governmental agencies, social service providers, to ensure South Boston residents have a seat at the table and a voice and to ensure our streets and residents are safe. South Boston works best when we work together. Let’s start tonight."
But while solutions were offered by both residents and politicians, the real take away from the night was that it will take both prevention and enforcement to break the hold drugs have on the neighborhood and like one residents said it starts with the kids.
“It’s not so much that we need to scare them [kids] straight, they need to see what their place is in this community,” said Maureen Mackin, 47, a South Boston resident. “We need to find some way for them to thrive.”
(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2012)