Police and neighbors are implementing a new strategy for controlling a situation that has been described as completely of control: the overnight weekend chaos around an illegal street party on Old Road, which runs behind the Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center across from Franklin Park.
First of all, Boston Police, whose officials on the ground express deep frustration about the lack of urgency by city departments who can help them combat the unruliness, plan to close the road, where for the past three years, and particularly for the last 18 months, “revelers” themselves have shut it down illegally on weekend nights and, using speakers larger than their cars, partied loudly until 5 a.m., according to police, aggrieved neighbors, state Rep. Chris Worrell, and City Councillor Brian Worrell, who lives around the corner.
The often-overlooked road, which offers a bypass off Blue Hill Ave. for drivers heading to Columbia Road and has a few homes on it, has recently been the focal point for murderous violence along with the parties.
Xavier Rivas, 22, was killed on Old Road on Sept. 2. Mikai Thomson, of Dorchester, has been arrested and charged with the murder. Thomson is also scheduled to go on trial Sept. 26 for an unrelated firearms charge, Suffolk DA Kevin Hayden’s office has said.
Neighbors and elected officials point to other homicides in the immediate area over the past year and a half as evidence of an out-of-control situation. The new strategies, which were outlined at a vocal public meeting on Sept. 12 inside the health center, have the support of neighborhood residents.
“We’ve done things in the past but clearly it’s time to ramp it up with a new strategy,” said BPD Deputy Supt. Pam Harris. “We are closing Old Road. All the appropriate public safety agencies and others have been notified. Right now, this is going to be a standing order going forward until we see a change in behavior.”
Police barriers are ready to be put in place on Old Road to stop illegal street parties. Barriers will go up Thursday to Sunday, 8:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. Photo by Seth Daniel
The closing barriers will be put in place from 8:30 p.m. to around 3 a.m. Thursday night to Sunday night every week. This follows road closures already in place on Franklin Park Road, American Legion Highway, a section of Talbot Avenue, Westview Street, and areas of the Arnold Arboretum in Roslindale.
The closings, though disruptive to residents and public safety responders, have been the only successful way officials have stopped so-called “revelers” – who are mostly people from outside the neighborhoods who bounce from spot to spot playing loud music, drinking, and at times sparking violence.
“Closing the road is a last resort because it impacts other public safety aspects,” Harris said.
For neighbors, the scene on Old Road every weekend is frustrating. The parties often spill over onto nearby Michigan Avenue, Hewins Street, and Ellington Street, among others.
Most of them asked the Reporter not to use their names for fear of retribution by the “revelers” who take over their neighborhood. “This is three years ago this started, and the community has been asking for help,” said one woman. “It was three years ago this should have been nipped in the bud – that’s three years ago when it was smaller and could have been confronted.”
Another woman told of coming home from her night shift job and being confronted with 300 or more people occupying the street with sound speakers, drinking, smoking from hookahs, and making it impossible for her to get home that way. She said some in the large crowd are local, but most come from places like Lynn, where, she said, they don’t allow such behavior.
“They shut this down in the suburbs, so we want to know why it is being allowed to happen here,” she said. “The day of the [Rivas murder], I called 9-1-1 four minutes before the shooting started because I knew something was going to happen…It bothers my soul that the only time we talk about this is after a tragedy.”
Councillor Worrell, a regular witness to the unruly behavior, has been vocal on the matter for two years. He said they had walk-throughs last year with city officials, but still aren’t getting resources to handle the problem.
“What I saw was 100-plus people on Old Road,” he said. “They go up to Ellington, too, and to Blue Hill. They have speakers that are just huge. Sometimes the speakers retract out of the car. Sometimes the speakers are actually bigger than the car. Everyone is playing music at the same time very loud. They are all just having a good old time right in the middle of the road…We’ve been having this conversation for a while.”
For their part, police are also frustrated. They push back on criticism directed at them, saying they have tried solutions, but don’t have the enforcement tools or the staffing.
“We are tapped out with our resources,” said Harris. “We do our best every night with what we have and we’re struggling. They don’t stay on Old Road; they move around…The people you are dealing with have no regard for the community, they have no regard for the police, and they have no regard for your quality of life. That’s just where we are as a society.”
B-3 Capt. John Flynn said police would like to get parking enforcement signs that call for no parking from 8:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. He also wants to have better lighting on Old Road.
“I can have one officer up there writing tickets,” he said. “We asked for those signs from the city, and they said it would be a few days. That’s one year ago and we’re still waiting. I can send one officer up there and clear the cars.”
Capt. Flynn said he also has requested a camera on Old Road, but nothing has come of that either. “We’ve been asking for years for that to happen – for years,” he said. “Now we’ve had a tragedy.”
BPD Lt. Det. John Fitzgerald said it is small things like ticketing that can really move the needle on moving the revelers. He said the easiest way for police to move large crowds is to start ticketing the cars.
“We need enforcement tools to make it not worth it for people to come to Old Road…If it costs you $500 a month to come party on Old Road, you’ll find somewhere else to go or you’ll stop doing this altogether,” he said.
He added that it isn’t illegal to play loud music from the cars before 11 p.m., according to state noise laws. Even then, he said, they can only fine revelers and seize their equipment for a day. The fine for a first offense is $25 and they can get their speakers back at the courthouse the next business day.
Worrell said the situation has been stalled at some level of government for far too long. He pointed to the quick, massive, and immediate response to South Bay Mall last month when teenagers engaged in large fights on the premises, but no shootings or homicides.
That, he said, is what needs to happen regularly on Old Road and other problem spots instead of letting things fester. “I believe that same urgency and response needs to happen in our community, especially when we’ve been dealing with this for three years and we’ve had several homicides,” he said.