The human misery at the intersection of Mass. and Cass in Boston is evident to all who pass by, in the makeshift tents and empty eyes and discarded needles. Behind those scenes is an increasingly disturbing level of violence, which according to Police Department data has resulted in six killings, more than a dozen rapes and attempted rapes, numerous assaults and stabbings, and two dozen unattended deaths in the past year.
As the city prepares to oust the squatters next month, proponents of a sweep have cited the need to eradicate the lawlessness that radiates through the epicenter of the region’s opioid crisis. Business owners near the area say the official tally of crimes does not capture the scope of the threats and violence they endure daily.
Police reports don’t reflect the three times a business owner has been threatened at knifepoint in the early-morning hours on his loading dock. Or the blood another business owner hosed off his door and entryway before customers arrived, said Sue Sullivan, executive director of the Newmarket Business Association.
“My business owners don’t even report, because it happens so frequently,” Sullivan said. “By the time police respond, the perpetrator is long gone.”
A recent survey by the association showed that business owners collectively had spent over $1.5 million repairing property damage in 2021, Sullivan said.
On top of the grime, human waste, lewd activity, and open drug use that addiction and chronic homelessness have imposed on the area, the violence and crime are yet more reasons to clear out the tent city, business owners say.
Four of the six killings were fatal stabbings and two were from severe beatings, according to Boston police. From November to Dec. 10, aggravated assaults — meaning a weapon was used or the injury was serious — jumped from 122 to 141.
Incidents in which pedestrians were involved in accidents with motor vehicles increased from 16 to 35 during that one-month period. And paramedic responses within a quarter-mile radius of the intersection of Melnea Cass Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue shot from 4,000 to 5,332, according to most recent city statistics obtained by the Globe.
Arrests in the vicinity topped 225 in the first 11 months of this year, including for the rape of a child younger than 16, according to the Police Department.
Mayor Michelle Wu announced last week that the city would clear out the encampment by Jan. 12 and connect tent dwellers with new housing units at one of three locations offering medical services, drug counseling, and mental health programming.
Asked about the violence in the area, the mayor’s office said, “Part of [the] announcement is to ensure the safety of individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness in the Mass. and Cass area.”
Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, who oversees the South Bay House of Correction, which is surrounded by the tents, lean-tos, and other haphazard structures, said getting people off the streets is imperative.
“Over the course of the last year or so, we’ve seen a pretty significant uptick in criminality and criminal activity,” Tompkins said. “But I think that the quicker they can get this done the better, frankly. Until that happens, I’m of the opinion that the criminality will continue.”
“We’ve had five or six deaths, we’ve had several tent fires with people trying to stay warm . . . we’ve got human trafficking of women and young males down there,” he said. “We have the pushers coming down to ply their trade.”
The conditions, Tompkins added, have almost become normalized. “We as a society cannot allow that to happen.”
He said there needs to be greater police presence in the area.
The Police Department declined to comment on the crime around Mass. and Cass and referred a reporter to the statement from the mayor’s office.
City Councilor Frank Baker, who represents part of the area, likens Mass. and Cass to the dark and dreary crime-ridden city that Batman calls home.
“It’s sort of a Gotham City going on down there,” Baker said. “There’s no boundaries.”
Boston’s first homicide of the year happened at Mass. and Cass on Jan. 4, in a parking lot near 115 Southampton St., about one block from the jail. Police found Richard Ghiozzi suffering from a stab wound at about 7:30 p.m. The 33-year-old Medford man later died at a nearby hospital.
Charged by indictment on April 2 in the murder are David Lamont Robinson and Robert Lee Jamison. Both have pleaded not guilty and are being held without bail. Robinson also faces charges of trafficking heroin and fentanyl, court records show.
Nearly two months later, on Feb. 27, Jamal Chin-Clarke also died by fatal stabbing to the chest. After the attack, Chin-Clarke stumbled from a church parking lot toward the nearby intersection of Mass. and Cass and collapsed. Bystanders robbed Chin-Clarke of his drugs and personal property before paramedics arrived and took him to Boston Medical Center where he died, court records show.
Investigators believe Chin-Clarke and his killer were engaged in a drug deal.
A Suffolk County grand jury on Sept. 1 indicted Liquarry Jefferson, 41, of Taunton. He pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder and carrying a dangerous weapon, Suffolk Superior Court records show.
Surveillance video captured much of the fatal stabbing. It allegedly shows Jefferson and Chin-Clarke, with his cousin, meeting up in the parking lot of the Universal Church at 70 Southampton St. They interact for eight minutes until Jefferson punches Chin-Clarke in the face and takes the cousin to the ground, court records show.
While Jefferson and Chin-Clarke fight, “the defendant is observed to make stabbing motions towards the victim’s chest area,” according to court filings.
Another Mass. and Cass stabbing, on April 4, sent two men to the hospital with injuries that required surgery. The incident took place “where scores of people routinely loiter” on Atkinson Street behind 112 Southampton St., according to court records.
Witnesses pointed out the culprit as Anthony Wall. He was not known “as a regular in the area,” one witness told police.
When police arrested Wall at the scene, he told officers that a “whole mob” had attacked him. He had a blood-stained folding knife in his pocket and cuts on his hands, records show.
The most recent Mass. and Cass murder indictment, another fatal stabbing, involves Karonn Brown, who had served 25 years in prison for stabbing a man to death, court records show.
Investigators say Brown went to Mass. Ave. and Peirson Street on Aug. 7 with his 27-year-old son and a cousin. There Brown was attacked by Ricardo Garcia while talking to a woman on the corner, according to court documents.
“Mr. Brown takes what may be a knife out of his pocket and then appears to pursue Mr. Garcia away from the car and away from the woman at the corner,” Suffolk Superior Court records show.
“Mr. Brown is then seen apparently stabbing Mr. Garcia repeatedly while Mr. Garcia is on the ground,” the records said.
Brown, his cousin Dravon Robinson, and son Derrell Sanford have all been charged in Garcia’s death. They are being held without bail and are scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 7.
The sixth Mass. and Cass killing of the year occurred on Aug. 23 on Atkinson Street. Ugochukwu McDonald Anaele, 29, of Houston, died from stab wounds at a local hospital.
A 53-year-old Boston man, Sean Stuart, was arrested in connection to the killing 11 days later, one street over from where it happened.