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Cambridge Caribbean festival canceled because ‘reliable intelligence’ suggested a shootout would take place

Nicola Williams, organizer of the Cambridge Carnival, spoke to reporters Friday outside Cambridge City Hall.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

CAMBRIDGE — Citing a potential for gang violence after bloodshed last week at a Caribbean festival in Boston, the Cambridge Carnival will be canceled this year, breaking a 26-year tradition, organizers said Friday.

Police made the decision to cancel the festival based on “reliable intelligence” that a gang was “planning to use our event as a venue to stage a retaliatory act of gun violence, potentially putting thousands of residents in the crossfire,” said Nicola Williams, a carnival organizer, at a news conference.

“I hate that the carnival was canceled this year,” Williams said. “I am outraged that someone would try to use the carnival to divide and harm our residents, to tear at the social fabric of what makes this city a home.”


Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. informed her of the decision on Thursday, Williams said.

A Cambridge police spokesman on Friday confirmed that the city is concerned about retaliatory violence after Boston’s Caribbean Carnival Parade festivities were marred by bloodshed last weekend.

“There is concern about a continuation of the violence that was initiated in Boston,” said Jeremy Warnick, the spokesman, in a phone interview Friday afternoon.

Asked to name the gang or gangs involved in the threats of violence at the Cambridge event, Warnick said, “I wouldn’t have specifics on that.”

The carnival, which was scheduled for Sept. 8, is one of the city’s largest public events, drawing thousands of costumed revelers, musicians, and other performers.

“Rooted in African traditions,” the festival aims to “bring together Cambridge’s diverse community,” according to the event’s website.

A 1.3-mile parade starts near the Charles River and winds through Central Square before ending in Kendall Square near MIT.

Earlier, organizers and officials had said they were acting partly because of gun violence in the “immediate vicinity” of Boston’s Caribbean Carnival Parade festivities last weekend, when a gun battle played out before the startled eyes of police officers patrolling the dawn J’ouvert Parade in Dorchester.


The violence took place close to the site of the annual Caribbean Carnival Parade, which kicked off Saturday afternoon, hours after the J’ouvert Parade began the carnival festivities.

At 8:31 a.m. Saturday, a man was shot near 15 Talbot Ave. As police and street sweepers cleaned up after the J’ouvert Parade, “two men who had no regard for anyone actually started to shoot each other in the presence of police officers,” Boston Police Commissioner William G. Gross said at the time.

Police arrested two men in connection with the shooting. Both have pleaded not guilty.

That shooting was part of a larger rash of violence in Dorchester during the night of Aug. 23 and into Aug. 24. All told there were four separate shootings that left one dead and three injured.

In a joint statement posted on the Cambridge Carnival group’s website, event organizers and city officials said, “The safety of the Cambridge community and those planning to participate in this event or any Cambridge event is paramount and will always serve as the highest priority as it pertains to making difficult decisions like this.”

A Boston police spokesman said Friday that last weekend’s shootings were all still under investigation.

Cambridge held the carnival last year, but two years ago it was marred by a daytime shooting near the reviewing stand. Two young men were shot in the leg and foot.


In 2015, violence was also a problem at the carnival, with a shooting and a fight leaving five people injured during a one-hour span.

In Cambridge on Friday, some lamented the event’s cancellation.

“There aren’t too many events for Caribbean people around here,” said Brandan Burke, a 22-year-old who works at a local biomedical institute.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to cancel. Maybe upping the security a little bit would have been a good idea.”

Maria J. Leite, a 40-year-old Cambridge resident, has been a part of the carnival for many years, but feared her costume for this year’s event now just represented “a waste of time, a waste of money.”

“It doesn’t make sense,” she said of the cancellation.

Andrew Pace, a 30-year-old Malden resident who grew up in Cambridge, said he understood the decision, saying, “There must be a reason why.”

“With a threat of violence, there’s potential for innocent bystanders to get injured,” he said.

Cam Stone, a 29-year-old from Somerville, who is an assistant director of a company that has a presence in Cambridge, thought officials are “letting violence win by canceling this.”

“They shouldn’t cancel a piece of the city that holds people together,” Stone said.

John Ellement, Emily Sweeney, and Steve Annear of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald. Jordan Frias can be reached at jordan.frias@globe.com.