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A Culture Of Fear In Salem

The Gang And Gun Issue Is Real

By William Legault


I’m a Point kid and I care.

Eisenhower was in the White House when I introduced myself to the world at North Shore Children’s Hospital. My parents brought me home to Perkins Street. Memories of Coast Guard aircraft flying over our tenement building are still fresh. Later we lived on Ward Street twice, with a short stay on Jefferson Avenue in between.

As I look back on the Point and Palmer Cove neighborhoods the 1960s and 1970s, there are no rose colored glasses for me. That means that I stand apart from many. I remember a gritty, working class neighborhood where the kids played in the street, swam at a small rock strewn beach whose water was colored by boating fuel, and on hot August days jumped from the bridge on Congress Street into the cool but murky South River. There were good people living there then, good families, broken families, and also some whose goodness could be called into question. There were bars and the the late night crowds that came with them. A motorcycle club lived in a tenement at the bottom of Ward and congregated noisily on a regular basis. Yes. There was crime too. The area was also beginning to transition from a traditionally French-Canadian neighborhood to one comprised mostly of those of Puerto Rican and Dominican heritage. The melting pot was in play then, as it continues to be today.

Two recent shootings in The Point, and a few other similar incidents this year have raised legitimate concerns. Concerns should be raised and our fears expressed loudly. But, let’s not pretend that this a new problem in Salem, and let’s not pretend that it is limited to just one neighborhood. This is a nation wide, state wide, and city wide calamity. Nobody and no place can be sheltered from this part of our contemporary American culture. There are pockets of the criminal element scattered throughout Salem. If you don’t believe this, then your head is firmly entrenched either in the sand, or someplace else.

What can be done about it? That’s a question for the ages. 

Politicians, aspiring politicians and law enforcement officials gathering together for speeches and photo ops are nice. But the optics are bad, similar to the “thoughts and prayers” our national politicians are constantly offering, which certainly come too late. My fears were not assuaged by yesterdays gathering at Palmer Cove Park. My cynicism however, was aroused. The police need time to do their job. The politicians need to make sure that we are informed, and that the police have the tools that they need. Speechifying and standing for photos are useless and transparent efforts, no matter the purity of intent involved.

There are guns in Salem, and some are in the hands of young fools. These same youngsters are affiliating with gangs, which are just groups of adult fools, whether they be Crips, Dirty Whites Boys, Red Devils or any of the many others. Add teens, gangs, and guns together and what do you get?  The math is easy. 

This is not just a gang issue. It is not just a gun issue. It is not just a bad kid issue. It is not just a Point neighborhood issue. This a a true, and multi-layered national issue. We love to criticize Chicago because, despite their strict gun laws, they appear to be the gun violence capital of the country. But how often does anybody ask where do all of these guns in Chicago come from? Chicago and its gun laws are an island surrounded by counties and states whose gun laws are much less strict, if they are strict at all. The Point is somewhat of an island in Salem, in that many look down on it wrongly as the “bad” neighborhood.

Salem has had a gang problem for a long time, and that has developed into a gun problem. It exploded one night at a club on Washington Street a few years back, and many are anticipating a similar explosion at a current Washington Street night spot. When will we actually pay attention? Will  your response be different when someone gets shot in your neighborhood? 

Stand up and demand that those who hold elective office, and those that hold public safety positions in Salem, in Massachusetts, and on the national level find a way to be keep gangs away from our kids, and to keep guns out of their hands.

I’m a Salem adult and I care.

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