Thursday, February 29, 2024

Tony Clark of My Brother’s Keeper, Cambridge, speaks Monday about gun violence at a rally at City Hall. (Photo: Tyler Motes)

Young victims of gun violence Xavier Louis-Jacques and Robert Favreau were honored Monday at a rally at City Hall where speakers demanded that city government take action to address a recent uptick in shootings.

Organizers and speakers at the rally hosted and organized by My Brother’s Keeper, Cambridge, also pleaded with the city to do better in supporting underserved and marginalized youth by funding enrichment services and providing better economic opportunities. Scholar and activist Isaac Yablo stressed that it is not an issue of resources, but one of access. “For a city as innovative as Cambridge, we are not innovative when it comes to dealing with violence,” Yablo said.

For some the rally epitomized how stratified Cambridge has become. The permit for it was held by an organization advocating for a policy to categorize trees as essential infrastructure, and many in the audience held signs for its rally, advocating for environmental issues. Close to the end of the MBK event, leader Tony Clark asked, “Why do we live in a city that has a more articulated structure for trees and bike lanes than one for kids that are being shot?”

Several City Council members attended, including Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui; at the council meeting that followed, she extended her sympathies to the families of Favreau and Xavier. “These are big holes in our community,” she said. Councillor E. Denise Simmons related her own experience losing a son, and called the rash of violence a state of emergency. “I did not know this young man. And I don’t personally know his mother, but I know her pain, her anguish in her struggle. And I know that she asked the same question I’ve asked, and others in this unique club, or organization, of individuals who’ve lost their children: When does it stop? When does it stop?” She said.

Xavier Louis-Jacques, 19, was killed in March on Pemberton Street, North Cambridge. On Monday an order was adopted unanimously to designate a street corner, square or the Pemberton Basketball Courts in honor of him.

Robert R. “LB” Favreau III, 22, died July 14, killed by his roommate in Somerville after a fight, police said.

Friday Night Hype and anti-violence orders

Two orders attempting to address the rise in violent crime were on Monday’s council agenda. The first was a proposal to grant government funds to a local nonprofit initiative called Equity Roadmap for the middle school mentorship program Friday Night Hype.

Vice mayor Alanna Mallon, who wrote the order co-sponsored by Siddiqui, Simmons and councillor Marc McGovern, read from an email sent by a Cambridge mother. “Cambridge’s youth’s struggle with mental health and gun violence is increasing. We need programs like Friday Night Hype that function as a preventative measure that supports our youth and provides them with positive relationships and mentorships that help guide them. If we are serious about addressing the root causes of gun violence in our city, we must support the programs that are doing that deep and meaningful work of engaging our young people in a safe and supportive environment.”

A crowd gathers at City Hall on Monday for rallies on gun violence and, separately, environmental issues. (Photo: Daniel Wang)

The policy passed unanimously.

The second proposal called for a city investigation into the increase in violence in coordination with Cambridge and Somerville police, more neighborhood engagement with members of affected areas, the creation of a program targeting men aged 18 to 30 providing “intensive support services that can place them on a more positive, gainfully employed, holistic path in life” and new drop-in clinics in the three neighborhoods most strongly affected by the violence – North Cambridge, Wellington-Harrington and The Port – to “address the mental and emotional burdens these residents are experiencing.”

“Clearly, what we’re doing to address the recent wave of gun violence is not working,” said Simmons, who wrote the proposal. “We need to address the underlying issues, we need programming for those men and women 18 to 35 that we seem to be missing. We need to make a sustained effort so that we’re not simply putting a Band-Aid on the problem and calming things down for the season only to have them reerupt in the spring and summer.”

Involving police

This proposal also passed 9-0, but not before councillor Quinton Zondervan tried to amend it to minimize police involvement, while acknowledging the violence as an issue that needed to be addressed and linking it to an epidemic in drug overdoses.

“I appreciate very much the direction of this policy order, especially the investment that it is proposing in supporting our young men. It’s well understood that violence is almost always committed by young men who have themselves been traumatized,” Zondervan said. But he preferred to see the work focused on a proposed Holistic‌ ‌Emergency‌ ‌Alternative‌ ‌Response‌ ‌Team – an alternative public safety program focusing on mental health services and community building – while advising against significant involvement by the CPD.

“One thing that I think we should not do is to increase policing. And in community meetings just a week or so ago, [police superintendent Christine Elow] said that increasing the police presence doesn’t change the outcome – that these shooting sometimes take place in full view of police presence,” he argued. “That’s a failed policy that I don’t think we should be perpetuating.”

This was shut down quickly by the rest of the council. Simmons stated that many of the neighbors she had spoken with in The Port preferred more police in the area. McGovern stressed that national studies surrounding policing did not apply to this specific scenario. “The Cambridge police are not perfect, but you know, I’m sorry, we are not St. Louis, we are not Minneapolis,” McGovern said.