Mattapan is a predominantly black community located on the southern side of Boston; it is surrounded by Roxbury and Dorchester, which share many of its problems, and Milton, an affluent suburb. Crime (especially drug trafficking) and unemployment are high; and though it has many attractive single-family homes, the Morton Street area has not escaped these problems.
Watson does know the neighborhood. In response to Proposition 2 1/2 cuts that shut down the area police station at the end of Morton Street, she co-founded Drop-a-Dime, a crime-reporting hotline that relies on community residents to report what they see. The hotline is supported by private donations, chiefly from Watson and the Reverend Bruce Wall, the other founder. Police Commissioner Joseph Jordan scorned the service when it started, a little over a year ago, but now he expresses high regard for it and for its founders. "Before," says Watson, "we would call the police when there was a problem, and even if there were repeated calls about the same area, the response would always come back that they didn't know a particular spot was a problem. Now we know they know."
Watson says Drop-a-Dime has come a long way. At first, "When people heard a voice on the other end, they would get second thoughts and hang up," she says. Now it gets more than 100 calls a month. It files bimonthly statistics with the police, and five Boston police officers are assigned to plainclothes duty with her organization. Drop-a-Dime receives calls not only from Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan, but from East and South Boston as well.
Georgette Watson knows the Angels, too. She was one of the first community leaders to welcome the Angels when they formed in 1981. She worked closely with Charles Mehlinger, the third president of the Boston Angels chapter (there have been five presidents), who she says tried to get the community involved with the Angels. A year ago, though, when Mehlinger dropped out of the Angels, that community involvement stopped, Watson says. She wishes the Angels had been more willing to do the kind of long-term trust-building she says made her organization work. She says the 53 Angels, or at least their current leadership, haven't tried enough to work with community leaders.
Charley Yancey, the city councilor who represents Mattapan, says he spent the day after the first two nights of friction canvassing his district. He reports that an overwhelming number of his constituents, though upset with the violence, are not anti-Angel but do wish the Angels had asked them or their leaders how they wanted to be protected.
"They made an excellent contribution to the security on the T, but their behavior has been contemptuous of the Morton and Fuller Street area," Yancey says. "They accidentally stumbled over the area and fell into an unfortunate incident. But to come back to defend their pride the second night was an infantile reaction."
The Angels' problems in Mattapan attracted the attention of the ABC Weekend News, which carried Watson's "gang mentality" comment. And it was from that broadcast that Lisa Sliwa, 26, the Angels' media-conscious national director, learned about the incident.