Residents in the Cary Square area describe this summer’s spike in criminal activity – such as drug dealing, gunslinging and prostitution – like watching two vastly different worlds existing side by side.
There is the world of the everyday people, those that live in the area, operate businesses there, raise children there and come home after work.
Then there is the world of the addicts and criminals – people existing in the same space as residents, but not even remotely in the same universe as them.
Day and night, the Addison Street, Orange Street and Eden Street seem to be inundated with the criminal elements, and long-time residents say it hasn’t been like this since the 1990s – when the police, the feds and neighbors pushed the gangs out and destroyed their networks.
Now, they report seeing overdoses all the time, finding used needles in their mailboxes, having to monitor their steps, porches and alleyways for prostitutes – and even dodge the occasional flying bullet. Though no one has been killed, all report it’s wearing on them, and if they had the resources, they would leave.
Josh Cook operates the Chelsea City Cafe and lives nearby, and was the first to call a community meeting on the drug and violence problem earlier this summer at St. Luke’s Church. He said he was pushed to the edge when he saw a woman coming down from Carter Heights one morning as he opened his coffee shop. She was covered in blood, a woman he believed was a prostitute and who was obviously intoxicated.
“She has obviously been beaten and was covered in blood and I was looking out on it from my shop,” he said. “There she was staggering in the street. Nice picture. Great scene for a movie, but a world I have to witness all the time, though I’m not part of it. She wanted to come in and I had to tell her to stay out. I told her to call the cops and take care of it…There’s just a different world out there. There’s another world of people wandering around trying to find the best way to score some dope. It’s really affecting me in a negative way. I’m having a hard time with why they are doing this to themselves, how they get here and how they are going to get out of here. I have a dark sense of humor, admittedly, but this goes far beyond anything I could have ever imagined.”
The meeting called by Cook opened the doors to neighbors, many of whom have been isolated from one another due to the crime out on the streets. Many have grown fed up with the drugs and prostitutes and occasional gunplay that they have retreated inside. Cook’s meeting seemed to change things.
A second meeting took place on Orange Street, and another on Eden Street.
Each time, new people have come and new plans have been made.
The Chelsea Police have now joined in and residents and police now hold weekly marches on Thursday’s through the neighborhood in the evenings.
By all indications, the walks aren’t for exercise, but a show of force by neighbors that they are taking back their streets.
Police Chief Brian Kyes said he gives kudos to the neighbors who have joined in to be pro-active about getting things back in order.
“The CPD has been conducting numerous impact patrols in the area several times a day,” said the Chief this week. “The residents have joined forces with the police and provided an enormous visible presence to ensure that no people with ill motives are able to take a foothold in this beautiful neighborhood. The City Manager and the Councilors have provided exceptional support as well. This is in line with Sir Robert Peele’s notion that the people are the police and the police are the people.”
He also noted that the police made a significant arrest in the neighborhood last week, combining efforts with the federal law enforcement to arrest an 18-year-old accused of drug trafficking and illegal firearm possession at a home that has been a constant problem for neighbors.
“Without jeopardizing the integrity of any ongoing investigations, things have been much quieter in that area since his arrest. He is currently being held in federal custody,” added Kyes.
District Councillor Clifford Cunningham said he has grown concerned over the last few months by what his constituents are witnessing. He has called another meeting for Aug. 11 at 6 p.m. in St. Luke’s.
“Over the last few months, the Cary Square and Addison/Orange neighborhoods have seen an unusual increase in criminal activity, specifically drug-related crimes and (victimless) shootings,” he said. “While criminal activity has never been completely absent in those areas, the noticeable increase over the last few months have caused many residents to express justified concern about their well-being and that of their families and the neighborhood as a whole. In response, several residents have taken the initiative to form a neighborhood watch, with the assistance of the Chelsea Police Department. Others organized meetings in their individual neighborhood to discuss potential solutions. I am in the process of organizing a neighborhood-wide public safety meeting for residents to express their concerns and hear from the Chelsea Police Department as to the what is being done to address those concerns.
“It is incredibly frustrating that a small number of individuals involved in criminal activity can instill so much fear in a neighborhood and bring down the quality of life for all who call it home,” he added. “Based on numerous conversations with Chief Kyes, I have complete confidence in the Chelsea Police Department’s ongoing efforts to remove the offending criminal elements from our neighborhood. Cary Square and Addison/Orange are neighborhoods comprised of individuals and families who work hard and deserve to feel safe in the community they call home. Those who contribute nothing but fear and violence have no place in our neighborhoods.”
The optimism, however, is countered with some trepidation about how difficult the task will be.
The common scenes of finding people on the sidewalk injecting heroin, or people selling drugs night after night from a parked car, or prostitutes passed out in the alleyway are hard to forget – and seem overpowering and inundating.
However, Cook and others believe that there is an answer.
“We need to engage in community policing,” he said. “We need to work with the police. You end up finding that you get as frustrated as the police do with the court system, where these criminals know how to game the system and stay out of jail so they can commit more criminal acts. I characterize it as a siege now. We are under siege. I have to say though it has died down a bit since we started working together. It is encouraging because there hasn’t been an overdose here this week.”