About two or three times a week, just after dusk, state Rep. Russell Holmes grabs a pair of wire cutters and some gloves and meets up with former Boston Police Capt. Haseeb Hosein and his truck to take on a special mission: the removal of all signs posted by a company they say is preying on Black, Brown, and low-income communities and the elderly.
Driving across American Legion Highway, up Harvard Street, down Blue Hill Avenue and on just about every throughfare on the west side of Dorchester and Mattapan, one by one the duo removes the ‘Cash for Diabetic Supplies’ signs in a display of contempt for those who put them up.
On any such trip they can remove close to 100 signs in just a few hours, as they are that plentiful. Despite that, said Hosein, most of the signs are replaced – sometimes by hand-written posters – as fast as they are taken down.
“They are absolutely preying on our communities and on Black people in particular,” said Holmes. “It really bothers me. I’m not sure who is doing it and what customers they have, but I’m sure it’s harmful to people. It’s not positive. They put these signs in communities where people are struggling and maybe need money. Folks also need their diabetic supplies, and we don’t want them selling supplies and not having them.”
The legislator said it is illegal to take someone’s prescriptions, even if there is payment for them. He said he is suspicious that whoever is running the companies are actually “phishing” for insulin, too.
It seems that western Dorchester and Mattapan are the main targets of the “Diabetic Supplies” signs. Holmes said that is by design to prey upon Black communities in particular.
“When I drive up and down Gallivan Boulevard to the Expressway, you see the real difference,” he said. “You drive through Black Dorchester and they’re everywhere, but when you get to the whiter areas of Dorchester by Morrissey Boulevard, there’s not a single one. They aren’t everywhere. They know where to target and I don’t think it’s right.”
Holmes has brought the matter to the attention of Attorney General Maura Healey in meetings with her office. He said he has also brought it up in initial conversations with Mayor Wu. He said he is telling every elected official and state government agency he can in hopes to draw attention to something that potentially is putting his constituents at risk.
Healey’s office told the Reporter that Holmes has mentioned the matter in meetings, and they have been looking into it, but have no definite answers about it just yet.
The Reporter called the “857” number that is posted on all the signs and reached a man named ‘Kirk’ who said he lives locally and is only employed by the company to answer phone calls and collect supplies, which he sends by package to the company, the name of which he wouldn’t divulge.
He said there are a lot of diabetics in the areas where his crews hang signs who get too many diabetic supplies from the pharmacy. He said most diabetics don’t need all that many ‘test strips’ or ‘lancets,’ which draw blood to test blood sugar levels. So, he said, the company he works for runs a service that allows people to donate them or get cash for the excess.
“From what I understand, they do accept donations, but offer to pay for supplies,” he said. “People have a hard time and people might need cash…People throw away a lot of these things. They just keep giving them more than they need…It’s just an exchange program and we source the excess supplies…It’s a job that helps me to take care of my four kids and family.”
Following that call to ‘Kirk,’ the Reporter’s phone received advertisements by text message offering to pay cash for selling diabetic supplies.
Citing the illegality of posting signs on public property, Holmes said he invites the rest of the community to join him and Hosein in taking down the signs from poles and posts in the neighborhood.
“My advocacy here is to say that if you agree with me, join in the fight and take these signs down whenever you see them,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to put up with this predatory problem. The message here is they need to come down all over Massachusetts – don’t prey on Black people.”