Monday, June 19, 2006

There goes the neighborhood

In Fitchburg last week, supporters of Ted DeSalvatore, a city councilor who is fed up with the crime in parts of Fitchburg, organized what he called the "Liberty March" through one neighborhood. Here is the description of the march (via Save Fitchburg):
This march is a collaborative effort from a number of people throughout the city to show their support for City Councilor Ted DeSalvatore and his taking an aggressive stance against criminally overwhelmed areas.

Why Liberty Walk? To put it simply, we want to liberate the neighborhoods under siege. These neighborhoods are filled with the criminally minded, aggressive, threatening individuals that make up our present gangs and drug dealers or those that aspire to mimic them. City Councilor Ted DeSalvatore has been trying to get the attention of city officials a number of ways over the last 18 months and has recently decided to step up his efforts and bring it to the attention of the general public through the news paper and at the neighborhood level.

This is not an easy or safe thing to do and Councilor DeSalvatore needs your show of support now and a continued show of support until the job is done!
According to the Sentinel and Enterprise, 300 or so concerned citizens came out to march on the neighborhood. Not surprisingly, they were not greeted as liberators:

FITCHBURG -- Some residents of the troubled 300 block of Elm Street revved car engines, yelled and rode bicycles around an estimated 300 people as they marched through the neighborhood Thursday night.

Participants in Thursday's 'Liberty Walk' -- aimed at showing city residents they were united to fight crime -- couldn't believe what they saw.

"I was shocked at what I saw. I was actually a little nervous," said Sara Melanson, 29. "There were children yelling profanity. And I heard one girl yelling -- she was only 13 or 14 -- and she was yelling, 'You've got today, but after today you can never come back down here.'"

Melanson, a lifetime resident, said she "didn't realize it had gotten so bad."


Mark Melanson, who brought his two young sons, expressed as much astonishment at the neighborhood's reaction as his wife Sara.

"It just seemed like they controlled that entire area. They owned the neighborhood," he said. "They were putting off fireworks when there were police around. There was such fearlessness. It was amazing."

Now, I've never been to the 300 block of Elm Street in Fitchburg, so I cannot say how bad it is or isn't. I trust that is a particularly rough part of town. But one has to be pretty naive to be surprised that the folks in that neighborhood would resent the march. If 300 people from across Leominster were to show up in the South End and march down Central Street to highlight problems in this neighborhood, you can be sure that I would resent it.

It just seems to me to be particularly confrontational. Forty-five years ago, when a mayor, city council, police chief, fire chief and hundreds of Concerned Citizens marched through neighborhoods in the south, they meant to intimidate. That may not have been the intent of the marchers in Fitchburg, but they should not be surprised that the neighborhood reacted the way it did.

Hey, two Fitchburg posts in a row, I don't know what's got into me.

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