About fifty Dorchester residents joined Police Commissioner William Evans, Capt. Tim Connolly and police officers from Boston Police C-11 District to click on flashlights for a half-hour walk around the neighborhood on Tuesday night.
Striking out side-by-side from the south parking lot of the former Marshall School, the officers and residents––who predominantly hailed from the Bowdoin-Geneva and Four Corners neighborhoods––ambled down Geneva Avenue, winding through residential side-streets as onlookers milked the night’s waning sun rays from their porches.
“I’m hoping the outcome is something we can’t measure,” Commissioner Evans told the Reporter, as the crowd approached Holiday Street, lined with three-decker apartments. “We want to get the community mobilized and working with us so we stop the violence in this city, and it’s all about coming together.”
He added, “There’s lots of divisiveness in this country right now, and events like this show the support that the community has for us and how, working together, we can stop the violence and we can stop the distrust between police and communities out there.” Fifteen minutes before departure, around 7:30 p.m., the crowd at the Marshall School began to swell, mostly with women and young children, prompting one officer to liken the evening to “Sunday church services.”
The chugging drone of the BPD ice cream truck was interrupted by bursts of laughter emanating from residents and officers. Two young girls with vanilla and chocolate goatees sat contentedly in their strollers, their pampering grandmother gathering her reserves for the extra load.
Warm greetings abounded; introductions did not. Many of Tuesday night’s participants are active members of the community, meeting regularly with C-11 officers to discuss local initiatives, police-community engagements, and strategies to jointly freeze away the neighborhood’s crime warts. But, according to Bowdoin St.’s Philly Laptiste, a mother of two young girls and an employee at the local health center, the flashlight walk wasn’t the arena for that.
“For me, it’s just coming out for a nice night,” she said. “I attend lots of community meetings, and I feel like that’s my opportunity to speak out about concerns I have about the neighborhood. … This is not the venue for that. For me this is an opportunity to mix and mingle with other community residents.”
Though the flashlight walk was planned well in advance of the recent wave of violence that has rocked the nation, the current climate surrounding police-community relations in the United States weighed heavily on the minds of Dorchester residents and officers alike. Five policemen were shot dead and nine others wounded by a heavily armed ex-marine two weeks ago in Dallas at a peaceful protest against the police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile outside Minneapolis. On Sunday, three more law enforcement officers were targeted and slain in a Baton Rouge ambush.
The BPD responded with temporary, precautionary measures. Officers have been taken off the walking beat and put into pairs; they patrol from their cars.
“The police family across the nation is just that: a family,” Capt. Connolly said. “And some of our brothers were killed––several. It hurts, it really does. And I can see it on the officers here.”
But Connolly expressed optimism, stressing that nights like Tuesday are good ways to spread messages of solidarity and service, even in times of turmoil.
“Every time I get a chance to engage the community,” he said, “I do my best to be there and to be out front for that reason: because it’s their community. And we’re here to serve the community, and there’s no better place to get great information for community needs, concerns, issues, and how we can be better at it.
Matt Parker, 32, a Bowdoin Street resident and the violence prevention coordinator at Bowdoin Street Health Center, echoed that strain of thought, emphasizing a community “taking ownership” and holding itself accountable with the police playing a supportive role.
Commissioner Evans addressed the group after it had completed its circuit.
“This is fun, this is what it’s all about,” he said. “Everyone reads the terrible stuff, but we’re all in this together. We have to be together to make our city the best city, making sure none of our young are hurt."
The Boston Police Department has more flashlight walks planned in the coming weeks across the city, including Aug. 9 at Franklin Field in Area B-3; Aug. 23 at Eire-Ellington in B-3; and Aug. 30 in Savin Hill on Area C-11.