Vigilantes and volunteers

Crime patrols in Boston
By SHARON BASCO  |  August 14, 2008

This article originally appeared in the August 7, 1973 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
 
"You got to organize. You got to pressure the police force to patrol the area. Maybe you'll find you need to hire supplemental police forces or organize your own patrol," Rep. Royal Bollings Jr. (D-Mattapan) said, his thin frame sprawled across the top of a desk in his real estate office. The room was filled with Mattapan businessmen, who'd come to the July 16 evening meeting with one purpose in mind: find an answer to the crime problem, find out how to protect themselves against the kind of violence that had killed one of their number less than a week earlier.

The early morning gun duel that killed James B. Miller in his Fish and Chips Store in Mattapan was not the only impetus for the area businessmen. They'd been planning to find better protection for their stores before the shooting occurred. Miller was to have been among the group of businessmen who'd been planning to meet with police to demand better protection. His death spurred the community into action, and that was why they were meeting in Bollings's Blue Hill Avenue office that night. There were close to 50 store owners crowded into that room, some in a miscellaneous collection of chairs pulled in for the occasion, others standing near the door at the far corner of the room where the sign-in book was being passed around.

Bollings finished his speech advising his constituents of the possibilities of protection by police, by private patrols, and by vigilante-type groups. "I'll just tell you this one last thing," he said. "If you ask me what has to come first, I say organize! You gotta have an organization to get police to listen."

"I beg to differ with you, Brother," a tall, heavy-set man called out. "We had a businessmen's organization before."

"That's right," a woman said, and many others in the meeting murmured the same.

"We tried that before," the man continued, "in the past eight years we tried many times (to organize a volunteer citizen's night patrol) and we could get it going for one week, then everybody, they lax off. Only a week at a time, and only after something big happens."

Royal Bollings Jr., watching the man intently while he spoke, pushed himself up with his arms and off the desk. He rose to speak, but another member of the Mattapan business community beat him to it.

"You gotta do something to take care of your business today ... or else ... who's gonna rip you off tonight? Even if it costs you, say ten dollars a week for protection it'd be worth it. It'd be better than losing hundreds if someone breaks in tonight."

It's better than losing your life if someone breaks in tonight, some were thinking. But less than a week after James Miller was killed by a holdup man, they didn't mention it. There was no need to keep it on the surface.
 
The Verge of Reality
"New York is facing this. Harlem is facing this. The same thing you're facing, they're facing," Bollings told the troubled businessmen. "So they formed a vigilante. It's on the verge of reality." The meeting broke into a confusion of conversations. Bollings shouted above the din, "It's on the verge of reality. It has to be. Because it's getting so bad in those streets."

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