Increasing police presence a flawed idea when applied against problems in square
From Julia Blencowe, a Cambridgeport resident, Sept. 19, 2017: I write with unease at the push by some residents for increased police presence in Central Square, as mentioned in “Barrage of violence around Central Square brings sudden action on a police substation,” Sept. 12. At a Sept. 13 meeting with police to discuss recent shootings on River Street, many suggested that these shootings would not have happened if there were more police in the area. Gun violence is a national problem and we need to work to prevent it, not just move it somewhere else. Violence is cyclical: People use it because they have experienced it themselves and not had the community and mental health supports to heal from it.
People also used this forum to complain about the number of homeless people and people using substances in Central Square. The message I heard was that these folks need to be more highly policed, and I was incredibly sad to hear this. When I pass through Central Square, I see many people who are homeless and/or using substances, and mostly they are socializing, eating, napping and hanging out. I worry that more police will further criminalize people who are homeless and those struggling with addiction, especially people of color – “broken windows” policing has been proven to disproportionately target people of color.
We do have folks in Cambridge who are struggling, and that’s why I’m grateful for organizations such as the Cambridge Needle Exchange, a place that provides education, counseling groups, HIV testing and overdose prevention as well as clean needles and a place to dispose of old needles. These services reduce the rates of HIV and Hepatitis C, which benefits the community as a whole. Instead of more police, I would like to see residents push for safe injection sites in Massachusetts, which would help reduce public injecting and deaths from overdoses.
In Cambridge, we like to describe ourselves as progressive. But will we live up to that and work to expand social services for people who are vulnerable? Or will we decide it’s easier to have the police arrest people or move them along so that we don’t have to see them?