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Police, East Boston residents discuss series of assaults

Bianca DiStefano of East Boston listened during a public safety hearing.

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Bianca DiStefano of East Boston listened during a public safety hearing.

Police and city officials reassured more than 50 residents Thursday night that they are doing everything they can to keep their East Boston neighborhood safe after several recent assaults.

Gathered at a community meeting at East Boston High School, residents voiced their concerns over the violence and asked authorities what measures are being taken to protect their neighborhood. Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans; Captain Kelley J. McCormick, the District A-7 commander; and Councilor Salvatore LaMattina were among the officials who fielded questions.

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The meeting was also translated into Spanish.

“We are here tonight to talk about crime,” said Neenah Estrella-Luna, a resident who helped organize and who moderated the meeting. “The fact that you are here, this indicates the strength of this community.

“We have a right to be safe in our neighborhood. We have a right to walk in that neighborhood anytime of day or night and not be assaulted and not be robbed.”

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Residents are concerned after assaults on three women Feb. 15 and another last Friday. At least two of those assaults were sexual in nature, and the Feb. 15 incidents are believed to be linked.

“Unfortunately, there’s been a rash of sexual assaults out here,” said Evans. “Two happened on Trenton Street, one happened on Chelsea Street . . . and that concerns us all; it really does.”

Evans stressed that the Police Department is being as transparent as possible, alerting the community so they can be on guard and be aware.

“You’re right: You do have a right to walk in this community, live in this community, not be the victims of crime,” McCormick told those gathered. “You also have another right. You have a right to help us stop it.”

McCormick asked residents to use the police tip line and said people should get to know their neighbors.

In addition, he voiced his concern about drug addiction and said that most crime in the area was driven by individuals trying to feed their addictions.

“The biggest drive for crime here is drugs, plain and simple,” McCormick said. “Heroin, OxyContin, oxycodone. Individuals in our community that have drug problems, they’re going to do what they have to do to feed their drug problems.”

Most community members said that police and city officials are doing what they can and thanked them for their service.

Judy Lyons, 63, a 44-year resident of East Boston, said she was proud of the work police have done to keep the community safe. She said meetings like the one Thursday night were “the best way to get to know the neighborhood.”

Still, residents wanted to know about any additional measures authorities can take to protect them.

Another resident who identified himself as Joseph voiced his concern for undocumented immigrants who live in East Boston, saying they often feel they cannot go to authorities out of fear.

“I’m a Colombian immigrant, now a US citizen, but many of my friends are undocumented immigrants,” he said. “A big concern in the immigrant community, mostly in the undocumented immigrant community, is they are afraid to approach police.”

Police and city officials reassured attendees, however, that they are there to help.

“We will help anyone,” said police Deputy Superintendent Norma Ayala Leong. “We don’t ask anyone if they’re a citizen or not.” She repeated the statement in Spanish.

Safety precautions were also reviewed at the gathering, and police announced that self-
defense classes for women are available.

Globe correspondent Jacqueline Tempera contributed to this report. Derek J. Anderson can be reached at derek.anderson@
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