Large street party, aftermath prompts demands for official action

A two-day outdoor party that attracted thousands of people to the streets near Franklin Field and Franklin Park in Dorchester last weekend prompted a strong reaction from a coalition of Black leaders in the city today. Members of the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition (BBCC) “sounded the alarm” in an online forum to denounce the partying and to urge young people to avoid a repeat of the events over the upcoming holiday weekend. They also criticized what they deemed to be a lack of response from police and state and city official.

“We are both outraged and scared to death,” said Dianne Wilkerson, a member of the coalition and a former state Senator from Roxbury, who said the gathering— which was promoted on social media began on Talbot Avenue last Saturday— was known to city officials for days ahead of time.

“The reality is that event got so large last week that there's no way— without major harm and potential for physical danger that they were going to break it up,” said Wilkerson. “But they should never have let it happen in the first place. Ever heard of barricades? We’ve seen it before. How did they ever allow thousands of people to congregate and not say anything?” 

“By Saturday night, live videos on social media clearly showed thousands of people partying, while many had masks around their necks, shockingly few were wearing them,” she added.

Last weekend’s events coincided with what would normally be a huge outdoor party scene for Boston Carnival, which like all other large gatherings, was cancelled. Wilkerson and other members of the coalition on Thursday demanded that appropriate resources be marshaled to conduct mass testing and contact tracing for those who attended the party; and that elected officials work to put a plan in place to ensure large groups of people don’t convene again this weekend. 

“Just one month ago, Gov. Baker was visibly angry about a prom event in Chatham and a gathering in Cohasset where more than people reportedly gathered,” said Dr. Atyia Martin, a Boston resident who spoke out during the call. “He held a press conference and announced there would be investigations and fines for the hosts. I remember the commentators observing that he was visibly upset.

“But a two to three-thousand person gathering in Dorchester, advertised all day on social media that literally shut down a public thoroughfare such that MBTA buses had to be diverted, doesn’t even warrant a comment? What are we to make of that?”

On Thursday, when asked about the Dorchester party at his press conference, Gov. Baker had this to say: “As we head into yet another holiday weekend and our back to school season it’s important that all of the Commonwealth’s residents stick to these proven practices. Covid is highly contagious and it’s going to be with us until we have a treatment.Everyone needs to continue to take it seriously."

Baker also said he was aware of the large party last weekend. He said the event was peacefully ended by Boston Police.

"With all of the tension that's out there these days that exists between law enforcement and people generally, they handled it exactly the way you would want them to,” he said. 

Mayor Walsh also issued a statement Thursday afternoon:

"To all those who are throwing parties in our city: stop putting residents' health and lives at risk. Large groups of people gathering together is dangerous right now in Boston, and completely unacceptable. Gathering throughout the night and early morning hurts neighborhoods, and our most vulnerable communities do not deserve to have their health, safety and quality of life negatively impacted by these actions," he wrote.

"Large parties jeopardize the progress we have made, and the sacrifices our residents and neighborhoods have endured in stopping the spread of COVID-19. We all must do our part to contain the spread of this deadly virus, and keep our city and neighborhoods safe."

Priscilla Flint-Banks, a community activist, said was very concerned about the potential health impacts stemming from the party. 

 “I just want to say this because this is personal to me. I lost my mom to COVID in April, and so this hits home, you know, when I see this happening and nobody paying any attention it infuriates me and that’s why the BBCC was brought together-- so that we could address these things that are happening in our community that nobody is paying attention to,” she said. 

Louis Elisa of Dorchester said that the large congregation of people was a hazard to many families who want to use Franklin Park as a respite.

“When they can’t get to any place else, they can’t get to the beach, they’re using [Franklin Park] as a respite and a place they can go and find relief from the hot weather and from being stuck in public housing units across the street,” said Elisa.

“Those areas are very important to the community. The lack of police protection and official support for families being able to have some place to go is very tantamount to what happens. Hundreds of calls were made to 911 and 311 and they got no support.” 

At-Large City Councillor Julia Mejia, who joined the coalition call, said “the fact that there was no communication across city and state agencies with the community is really disheartening to me as an elected official.”

“What is important about this particular situation is that it’s not just what happened [last] Saturday,” added Mejia. “It is what happens on Talbot Ave. and American Legion Parkway every weekend. There are people that are congregating and hanging out all throughout the weekend. This issue here presents itself as an opportunity to figure out what it is that we’re going to do moving forward as a collective and bringing everyone to the table.” 

She added: “I’m really disheartened that there hasn’t been any communication in terms of what’s going to happen for follow up and what systems will be put in place for any preventative measures.” 

Wilkerson added that: “We need a plan for the weekend and going forward. And the best plan that can be had is the one that gets worked out with elected officials, the law enforcement, and with the community. That is what we’re seeking, because we think there are ways to do that."

“I know that the police are tentative about going in and I watched what happened just watching how the crowd was responding to police in some of the videos. I wouldn’t have wanted to be a police officer trying to walk through that crowd. But that’s the problem, it should never have been allowed to get that big. That's’ not a plan.” 

The coalition is planning to hold another online session on Friday, Sept. 4 at 1 p.m. to discuss how to prevent more large crowd gatherings over the holiday weekend. The BBCC also meets virtually every Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. For more details visit https://blackbostoncoalition.org/