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‘It’s criminal behavior’: Hundreds involved in a series of violent incidents across Boston

Crowds gathered outside AMC Boston Common 19, where a massive brawl broke out.Boston25News

The South Bay shopping center was in a state of chaos. Just after 5 p.m. Sunday night, a crowd nearing 400 young people devolved into multiple violent melees outside the AMC movie theater, Target, and Starbucks, forcing those stores to close early and swarms of police officers to respond from across the city. Several officers said they were assaulted.

Only six hours later, at around 11, a similar scene played out downtown at the AMC Boston Common 19, as moviegoers spilled out onto the sidewalks after the theater was evacuated because of fighting. Police estimated 150 youths crowded the streets and nearby sidewalks, including, one officer wrote, “the same group of teenagers that just caused chaos at the South Bay mall.” One person stomped on top of a car, and others fought with officers, according to a police report.

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Between the two incidents, police arrested 13 teenagers on charges including assault and battery on a police officer, disorderly conduct, and disturbing the peace in what police called an overwhelming burst of disorder.

“This behavior is not kid behavior — it’s criminal behavior,” police Commissioner Michael Cox said during a Monday press conference.

City leaders say the explosion of violence involving young people over the weekend underscores a critical need for more specific services and oversight targeting teenagers, such as more places for them to gather and greater efforts to enlist the help of parents and guardians to try to stem the disorder.

In addition to the two large melees, eight people were shot at a neighborhood gathering at the city’s Caribbean festival, and a crowd of out-of-town youth disrupted the St. Anthony’s feast in the North End.

Cox did not know whether police officially verified whether a group involved at the Boston Common was also involved at South Bay. But he called the youth violence in general “a disturbing trend to see continue.”

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The brawl at South Bay was the latest incident of violence there in recent months in what police have called a shopping center “plagued with countless incidents of violence, property destruction, and other crimes at the hands of this ever-growing group of juveniles.” Downtown Crossing has experienced similar mayhem involving random attacks or violence against police officers.

The incidents over the weekend, however, were unusually large in scope and featured numerous group attacks on officers, including one who was beaten while he was lying on the ground, according to police.

“These actions should be seen as a wakeup call to the city and the state,” said Michael Kozu, executive director of Project R.I.G.H.T. in Grove Hall. “Everybody has to step up — they don’t have a choice.”

Kozu, whose organization offers youth programming and outreach, said the young people involved “feel that they’re anonymous” and that they won’t face consequences. He said school personnel, law enforcement, and social service organizations need to coordinate to identify them and talk to them and their guardians.

“We need to send a message that one, that these actions are unacceptable. Two, that we want to work with you and channel your energies in a more productive direction,” Kozu said, “And three, that continued pursuit of these actions will have consequences. It can work.”

Emmett Folgert, a longtime youth outreach worker in Boston, said there needs to be a “public education campaign” aimed at parents, guardians, and other adults like coaches who hold influence over young people.

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“Show the families the video and audio of what their kids are doing and saying,” he said. “They won’t like it, and I think they’ll do something about it.”

The weekend’s most shocking incident occurred around 7:45 a.m., Saturday, when a blaze of gunfire on Talbot Avenue disrupted the annual J’ouvert celebration that’s part of the festival, injuring eight, one severely. Four people were ultimately arrested on weapons charges, but no one has been charged with the shooting.

At the North End festival, police arrested six people Sunday night, Cox said, after “people not from the city” disrupted it with underage drinking and scuffled with officers.

The South Bay incident began at 5 p.m., when, police said, officers responded to a call of a “disturbance”. Arriving officers needed backup from multiple other precincts and State Police to control the crowd.

“As officers attempted to apprehend suspects, they were met with resistance by other juveniles, who began to assault officers,” the Boston Police Department wrote in a press release. Police arrested eight people, five boys and three girls, between 12 and 17 years old after the fracas.

Police released them to guardians, as is typical for minors, though they plan to file charges in the juvenile justice system, according to the police report.

The South Bay movie theater was one of two cinemas in Boston listed as taking part in “National Movie Night,” which featured $4 tickets.

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The other theater was the Boston Common cinema, where police responded at around 11 that night to reports of a large fight outside. Police said a large group blocked “both vehicle and pedestrian traffic on streets in the surrounding area.”

“Officers observed one juvenile jump on top of a car and began to stomp on the roof of the vehicle,” police wrote, saying officers tried to break up “multiple fights.”

In one incident downtown, two people reported they were assaulted and robbed by “one of the groups” outside the Godfrey Hotel on Washington Street. A woman said she was “grabbed by her hair from behind and pulled to the ground and then surrounded and punched and kicked repeatedly while on the ground,” a police report said.

The woman said her phone, credit card, and wallet were stolen, while her male companion was also attacked and robbed of about $20. Both victims declined medical attention, police said.

AMC didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Police reported officers were assaulted at both locations, including officers who were punched — one was reportedly placed in a chokehold.

Cox said all the officers are at home recovering. He thanked his officers for their “restraint” and “professional behavior.”

One 13-year-old boy and two aged 14, as well as two girls, ages 14 and 16, were arrested in the incident at the Common, police said. They were released after they were processed and were referred to the juvenile justice system, and in at least one instance police filed a complaint with state social service workers for neglect.

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Cox made “a plea to parents” to talk to their children about the incidents.

“Make sure you know where your kids are,” Cox said. “We are not babysitters.”

City Councilor Frank Baker, whose district includes South Bay, said young people need “physical places to go” in the evenings for sports and arts, like the youth center he advocated for last year in Columbia Point.

“I had the Little House when I was growing up, which saved me,” the councilor from Dorchester said, referring to a now-defunct program on East Cottage Street about a half mile south of South Bay.

The mall is owned by the management company Edens, which did not respond to requests for comment on Monday. Baker said Edens has been working with officials.

Isaac Yablo, Mayor Michelle Wu’s senior adviser for public safety, said the city and its partners have to get creative in offering evening programing that’s more appealing to teens. He said pop-ups with food, for example, could pull in kids who otherwise don’t want anything to do with the generally straight-laced city programming.

“They need to be able to eat, kick it, get their energy out,” said Yablo. “We need to be innovative.”

Correction: Because of a reporting error, a previous version of this story mischaracterized a Boston police officer’s response to an unruly crowd by Boston Common on Aug. 27. The officer did not use pepper spray. The Globe regrets the error.


Sean Cotter can be reached at sean.cotter@globe.com. Follow him @cotterreporter. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.