By “Jane Doe”
Recently, there has been quite a bit of publicity about the gang activity and increasing violence centered around 60 Providence Street. Newspaper articles claim that police have been responding to complaints for the past two years. While it is true that crime has increased during this time, complaints have actually been made about that building for over ten years.
I remember attending the opening meeting of the Providence Street Neighborhood Watch in winter of 2001 and hearing neighbors voice concerns about that property and some of the buildings in that area. People noticed that young men were meeting in front of 60 Providence Street selling drugs. Most of these men did not live in the building, but came from neighboring streets. Steve Patton from Worcester Common Ground was invited to one of the meetings to discuss solutions to the problem. One idea was to put up security cameras in hallways and entranceways. Things quieted down a bit but did not disappear entirely.
A few years later, we noticed that PSP (Providence Street Posse) was being spray painted on some of the buildings, vacant and occupied, around the Harrison Street and Providence Street corner. Neighbors brought this to the Worcester Police gang unit’s attention at the crime watch meeting. We were told that this was not a recognized gang, but a bunch of young kids who were trying to play at being gang members. There was nothing to worry about.
Over the past few years things have been getting worse. Gunshots are frequent. You can see drug dealers standing on the corners or walking up and down the streets. There have been drive-by shootings, fights and attempted robberies. The Providence Street Posse, gang member wannabes, are now moving into other parts of the city as full- fledged gang members. Now that this violence has moved into downtown Worcester, city officials are sitting up and taking notice.
Many people feel that their complaints to police were ignored, but I don’t think this is true. Laws protecting the rights of the offenders often limit what police can do. Often police make arrests, just to have these criminals released back into the neighborhoods. Police cannot make arrests solely based on complaints. They usually have to catch drug dealers in the act. It takes time to build up a case to put these people away. In the meantime, this section of the city continues to get worse as gangs get more powerful and rival gangs move into the area. It is disheartening to hear people from other neighborhoods talk about your home as being in a “war zone.”
Unfortunately, many of us feel like we are caught in a vicious cycle. As decent people get sick of the situation, they move out to safer communities. Those of us who cannot move live in fear of what will happen next. As decent people move out, more of the troublemakers move in. Violence escalates.
I have no solutions. I wish laws were stricter, making it easier to arrest these criminals, put them away, and keep them away. I wish we could walk and drive through this neighborhood without fear of becoming victims. I especially wish landlords could be more careful about who moves into their buildings and be more aggressive in evicting troublemakers. In the meantime, many of us wish we could just get out. Too bad. This was once a nice middle class neighborhood, where people knew each other and looked out for one another. There was almost no crime. I wish we could go back to the way it was!