Boston City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson was mugged as she stopped near Atkinson Street Saturday night to observe the conditions at a tent encampment in the area known as Mass. and Cass, the center of the city’s drug and homelessness crisis.
Fernandes Anderson, who was not injured, said in an interview Sunday that she made an unscheduled solo visit to the site to “see for myself what I would be voting on,” referring to a new plan put forward by Mayor Michelle Wu that would authorize police to clear tent encampments and makeshift shelters that are often hotbeds of criminality, including opioid sales and sex trafficking.
It was only a few moments after Anderson stepped out of her pickup truck on Southampton Street around 7:40 p.m. and began walking toward Atkinson Street that a man “charged” at her and told her not to take any pictures, before ripping her cellphone from her hand and fleeing down the street, according to Fernandes Anderson and a Boston police report obtained by the Globe, in which her name and others were redacted.
“I’ve never experienced what I experienced yesterday,” she said Sunday. “Getting mugged by someone who is suffering a disease is disheartening because you can’t blame them for their behavior immediately, but you also know someone just attacked you.”
Fernandes Anderson said she ran to a nearby police cruiser and got an officer’s attention. According to the police report, the officer saw a man dressed in a red shirt and black pants escape into the crowd on Atkinson Street and called for backup.
With additional officers at the scene, police walked through the crowd and yelled commands for the phone to be returned, or else the tents would be searched, according to the police report.
Fernandes Anderson said she was able to turn off her phone and disable her data as the search got underway. It went on for at least a half hour until a man stepped forward and handed over her phone, which was missing its protective case, she said. The man said he found it on a nearby electrical box, according to Fernandes Anderson.
Fernandes Anderson said she knows the area near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard is dangerous, but she felt safe when she saw the police cruiser parked nearby.
She told police she was taking photographs when the man snatched the phone from her hands, according to the police report.
Fernandes Anderson told the Globe that she had “never come to this area” before and was taking photos as part of her research into how the issues plaguing Mass. and Cass have spread to other corners of the neighborhoods she represents in District 7, which includes Roxbury, Dorchester, the Fenway, and part of the South End.
She said she had visited Clifford Park, another troubled area where syringes have been found on playing fields for several years, before heading to Atkinson Street.
“I was just collecting information for myself, and maybe I could have asked the officer to step out of their car, but I felt like he was there watching me, and I was OK,” she said. “I felt pretty safe, but I know there is a huge safety concern there.”
Fernandes Anderson said she was “completely impressed” with the Boston police officers who assisted her in tracking down her phone.
“They were super professional and extremely patient and were respectful to the people there,” she said.
In a statement Sunday night, a city spokesperson said officials were grateful to police officers who responded to the incident and who work to help “ensure the safety of all in an increasingly difficult situation.”
“This incident underscores the need for an ordinance to support public safety so we can eliminate the violence and dangerous activity that undermines our continued outreach for public health, housing, and recovery services,” the statement said.