A coalition of Black community leaders focused on Boston's response to the COVID-19 pandemic criticized city and state officials and police on Thursday for what they called a lack of response to large street parties held in Dorchester last weekend, calling the parties potential "super-spreader" events.
Social media posts show large crowds of people gathering on Talbot Avenue in Dorchester last Saturday night and into Sunday morning, with few face masks visible. The Boston Black COVID-19 Coalition said during a Zoom call with reporters there were also street parties on Blue Hill Avenue.
"I was surprised at the total lack of response to this very serious spreading situation," said Louis Elisa, a member of the Boston Black COVID-19 Coalition and is on Boston Mayor Marty Walsh's Health Equities Task Force. "This is a health crisis. It's a major health risk for the residents of the community, but also for the whole region."
Gov. Charlie Bakerhas spoken out forcefully against parties in the past, saying they contribute to an uptick in cases. But Elisa said the governor's anger was reserved for events in white communities, and that he did not condemn this much larger gathering of Black people.
"We're trying to figure out as a coalition of Black organizations and Latinx organizations: Does the governor care about Black people and our health and public safety," Elisa said.
Baker defended Boston Police's response to the party when speaking with reporters during a press conference on Thursday.
"It's my understanding that the State Police and the Boston Police responded to those calls and broke that event up," Baker said. "But they did it by going to the event, engaging with the people who were there, and basically working to come up with an answer that would translate into people leaving peacefully."
Baker acknowledged it took a while to get the crowd to disperse, but suggested that police offers acted in order to avoid a confrontation.
"They handled it exactly the way — with all of the tension that's out there these days that exists between law enforcement and people generally — they handled it exactly the way you would want them to," Baker said. "Now maybe it took too long, and maybe people were unhappy about that."
Videos on Facebook show crowds dancing and drinking early Sunday morning on the stretch of Talbot Avenue along Harambee Park. Police cars appear to block off the street. Police officers can be seen in videos walking through the crowd and telling some people to turn down music.
The annual Caribbean Carnival Parade had been planned for last weekend, but was cancelled because of the pandemic. Members of the Boston Black COVID-19 Coalition say the carnival's organizers warned Boston Mayor Marty Walsh's office that a large gathering was expected despite the cancellation.
In a statement released Thursday, Walsh called on those throwing parties to “stop putting residents’ health and lives at risk.”
“Large groups of people gathering together is dangerous right now in Boston, and completely unacceptable,” Walsh said in the statement. “Large parties jeopardize the progress we have made, and the sacrifices our residents and neighborhoods have endured in stopping the spread of COVID-19.”
During the press call, former State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson said she's not suggesting police should have forced the crowd to leave.
"That event got so large last weekend, there's no way without major, major harm — potential for physical harm and danger — that they were going to break it up," Wilkerson said. "But they should never have let it happen in the first place. Ever heard of barricades?"
Members of the coalition raised concerns that similar gatherings are planned for the upcoming Labor Day weekend.
Boston Black COVID-19 Coalition member Priscilla Flint-Banks became emotional when discussing the city and state's response to the parties.
"I lost my mom to COVID in April, and so this hits home," Flint-Banks said. "When I see this happening and nobody paying any attention, it infuriates me. ... I'm tired of burying people. I'm tired of burying my family. I'm tired of burying my friends and their kids. ... We've got to do something. We elect these people. We need to hold them accountable."