Bostonians are a resilient lot. We take pride in celebrating together with large public events that become beloved traditions. And we defy those who disrupt and endanger these traditions with outrageous acts of lawlessness and violence by carrying on with our traditions, even in the face of mass casualty carnage and, sometimes, fatalities.
This “Boston Strong” ethos is fine to an extent, but there is a thin line between stoic resolve and head-in-the-sand denial that borders on recklessness. Such is the case, sadly, with the J’ouvert parade, which has become a favored platform for gunmen who have repeatedly targeted the late August event and its participants, both directly and indirectly, over multiple years.
Saturday’s shooting incident in and around the Talbot Avenue terminus of the early morning parade left eight people with wounds from bullets. Miraculously, none were lethal, unlike in past years when an innocent bystander – Dawn Jaffier – was struck and killed by a stray bullet as she walked the route along Blue Hill Avenue. Last weekend’s gunfire erupted close enough to the parade route that police, who were there in large numbers as they are every year, shut down the event as spectators rushed to find cover.
And yet, there’s a reflexive political instinct to deny any connection between the parade and the violence that unfolded, as though it’s normal for there to be a mass casualty event at Franklin Field on any given Saturday at 7:30 a.m. It isn’t. While that specific neighborhood is too often the scene of gun violence, it’s disingenuous at best to cast aside the obvious relationship between the mainly peaceful parade and the violence that has too frequently disrupted it.
Traditional events are valuable, but none should be beyond critique and reform when it becomes clear that it presents a pattern of trouble, injury, and danger to the public. This parade is unique in the city, as it starts at 6 a.m. with many of the participants staying up all night to “pre-game” the walk. Perhaps it’s time for community leaders and organizers to re-think the timing or the route. It’s clear that something must be done differently.
While J’ouvert is the most obvious candidate for such a review given this most recent mass casualty shooting, it is not alone in the context of citywide public safety concerns. Brawls and unruly crowds have become a scourge in multiple neighborhoods, including the North End, where street festivals have turned chaotic and violent on more than one occasion this summer.
Finally, it must be noted that our city’s police force is stretched dangerously thin. Many officers are compelled to work “forced overtime” shifts to cover special events like street festivals, concerts, and sporting events— in addition to their “normal” tours of duty patrolling city streets and responding to emergency calls. In several instances this summer, that coverage included massive responses to diffuse large numbers of youth at South Bay Mall, which has become a magnet for problems in our neighborhood.
We do not have sufficient numbers of police officers in a Boston that is growing steadily in population and venues. Those who are in the ranks are over-taxed and over-worked and their families are similarly burdened. City government must take steps to relieve the pressures on individual officers and the department as a whole by investing in the recruitment and retention of more officers. And we should take a clear-eyed, tough-but-fair approach to evaluating how we celebrate together, with a keen eye toward public safety as the number one priority.