The new Combat Zone?

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  October 20, 2010

"When I opened [in 1996], at that time there were only two businesses around here," says Merengue owner Hector Pina. Among the area's most vocal proprietors, Pina keeps his sidewalk tidy and under surveillance, and encourages his neighbors to do the same. The City of Boston also recently secured funds to install cameras at various storefronts near this and other high-crime hot spots. "Things have definitely improved," continues Pina, "but we can get it better. This is proof that we can have nice establishments in this part of the city. A lot of people don't expect to find this kind of restaurant here. They walk in and they're just blown away."

A curbside memorial outside of 40 Woolson Street, near where four people were found shot to death on September 28.

The War Zone
Despite the fortified presence of the B-3 police precinct and an increasing number of restaurants and service businesses, the cross-hairs of Morton Street and Blue Hill Ave aren't pretty. Addicts panhandle at the corner gas station, and gunshots ring out on a recurring basis. In the immediate vicinity of Woolson Street, where the so-called "Mattapan Massacre" went down, there have been more than a dozen attempted homicides since the raucous early '90s.

In the middle of it all, the 78-year-old Chez Vous roller rink has been routinely plagued by violence, including a shootout in 1994 that left seven injured, and a fatal stabbing outside that same year. Though the business is located directly across Rhoades Street from the B-3 police station, Chez Vous owners are currently being held to task for a non-fatal August 20 melee that took place down the street from the facility. Owner Greer Toney charges that the BPD refuses to assist with security; police say Toney should take more responsibility. For the most part, nobody wants to see the rink close, because even with occasional episodes, it offers one of the few non-church refuges for area teens.

Kids in this neck of Mattapan need sanctuaries. While news trucks camped outside of the crime scene on Woolson Street — and as some reporters crashed the funerals of victims against the wishes of relatives — most media failed to report a subsequent shooting that occurred just blocks away on Deering Road. Similarly, there was little noise made about the fact that, exactly one month prior to the quadruple homicide, on the day of the Boston Carnival, three men were shot and killed in Mattapan, while another was found riddled with bullets in the house directly next door to where the four victims were found on September 28.

"The neighborhood does not look well," says Pastor Bruce Wall of Global Ministries in Codman Square. A perennial contrarian, Wall called for Mayor Tom Menino's resignation following the Woolson Street incident, and believes authorities are remiss in their duty to effectively patrol problem patches including those near where Morton Street meets Blue Hill Ave. "A lot of things around here are just simply being neglected. There's a lot of talk about a lot of middle-class black folks getting ready to leave town, and from what I gather, in many cases it's not just talk."

Mattapan Square, though hardly the hamlet that is neighboring Milton, bustles with commerce on most days.

The Comfort Zone
While south Mattapan is markedly more proletariat than lush Milton, where Governor Deval Patrick lives just a few miles away, it's also home to one of the most promising, busiest squares outside of downtown, with swarms of mostly black and Caribbean consumers rushing in and out of chain stores, independent shops, and restaurants.

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