Mejia weighs in on South End drug arrests 1 year after 'Operation Clean Sweep'

An exclusive statement from City Councilwoman Julia Mejia offers new reaction to a BPD sweep of the 'Mass and Cass' area that put 7 people behind bars and more than 25 others in treatment, this week.

A graphic shows City Councilwoman Julia Mejia. (Photo via Boston.gov)

At-large city council member Julia Mejia condemned criminalization of addiction in an exclusive statement to Substantive, Wednesday night, mere days after Boston Police made 32 arrests/detentions in a coordinated sweep through the South End.

As police say they targeted individuals actually distributing drugs, this law enforcement operation has already drawn comparisons to Operation Clean Sweep, which took place in the ‘Mass and Cass’ area between the South End and Roxbury almost exactly a year ago. 

“Operation Clean Sweep was a brutal and heartless measure aimed at addressing what goes on at the intersection of Mass and Cass by simply removing those people from our sight,” Mejia said in her statement. “In some form or other, it is still going on today.”

Clean Sweep was a direct response to the assault of a corrections officer traveling to work through this neighborhood of Boston.

As residents had long clamored for change, that violence got the attention of city officials, prompting a swift and strong police crackdown on what has long been seen as a flash point of addiction and homelessness in Boston.

Little changed following Clean Sweep, however, leaving many issues of drug use and homelessness still rampant and plainly visible for residents and outside observers. 

This latest operation, in fact, hit many of the same exact streets that Clean Sweep did, as police entered the South End, starting on October 1, with at least 17 arrest warrants for drug distribution.

Over five days, they made arrests on seven of those warrants, while also coming across at least 25 other people openly using drugs on the streets. 

A police press release says officers diverted those individuals they met to treatment.

It’s unclear if Suffolk County DA Rachel Rollins intends to pursue drug possession convictions for those latter individuals. 

Either way, Councilwoman Mejia criticized this entire criminal justice approach in her statement, Wednesday. 

"A lot of people refer to what's going on at Mass and Cass as a ‘crisis’ or an ‘epidemic,’” she said. “But let's be clear: the only crisis that is going on is one in which the system continues to try and arrest their way out of substance use disorder and homelessness.”

She later elaborated, saying, “We need to do everything we can as a city to open our minds and our hearts by listening to the needs of those most impacted and by leading with compassion."

I’ve reached out to DA Rollins’ office for comment and clarification on prosecution plans and expect a response by the end of the week.

I’m also anticipating comments soon from city council members including Frank Baker, who represents the South End.

READ JULIA MEJIA’S COMPLETE STATEMENT

A lot of people refer to what's going on at Mass and Cass as a ‘crisis’ or an ‘epidemic.’ But let's be clear: the only crisis that is going on is one in which the system continues to try and arrest their way out of substance use disorder and homelessness. Operation Clean Sweep was a brutal and heartless measure aimed at addressing what goes on at the intersection of Mass and Cass by simply removing those people from our sight. In some form or other, it is still going on today. We need to do everything we can as a city to open our minds and our hearts by listening to the needs of those most impacted and by leading with compassion.

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