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Worried Merchants Ask the City For Increased Police Visibility

By David N. Hollander

Wednesday night's curfew and massive police presence in Harvard Square marked the beginning of a crackdown on street people in the area.

The Square's merchants, badly shaken by three large trashing episodes since the spring, met Wednesday and asked the city government to take strong action.

"We asked police to start redressing the balance to some extent." Alexander Zavelle, manager of the Coop and spokesman for the merchants, said yesterday.

"It amounts to saying, 'Kids, if you don't have something to do here, you'd better leave Cambridge,'" Zavelle said. "I don't enjoy saying that," he added.

Hard Hit

But the merchants feel they have little choice. Some have been hit very hard; Saks Fifth Avenue was closed for a week after the most recent widespread trashing and has suffered $40,000 damage in the three incidents.

"We're talking about the people who just stay," Zavelle said, and not all young people visiting Cambridge, "There is a small but definite group who just want to stir up trouble."

That "small but definite group" amounted to about 25 young people on Wednesday. A crowd of 100 to 150 youths had gathered for a planned "block party" on the Common at 8:30 p.m. As usual, marijuana was smoked, fires lit in trash barrels, and political slogans chanted periodically.

Many in the group said they expected a police attack in the Common at 9 p.m.-the hour set as curfew there by the City Council last week. But no police came.

Meanwhile. Cambridge police had moved over 200 men to the outskirts of the Square and at 9:30 p.m. City Manager Joseph Corcoran ordered an 11 p.m. citywide curfew. Police broadcast the curfew notice by amplifiers from their cruisers. About two dozen helmeted police were stationed at intersections throughout the Square.

Several times throughout the night, a handful of youths in the Common picked up rocks and tried to prod the crowd toward the Square. "Come on, I need a shirt," one shouted. But the crowd stayed put.


Finally, shortly after 11, the group went into Massachusetts Ave., stoned passing cars and emergency equipment, and began ripping down a wooden fence to form a barricade.

Most of the 100 people present remained bystanders or tried to persuade the others not to trash or loot. About 25 seemed to want a confrontation.

Shortly after 11:30, about 60 police in riot gear began moving toward the group in the street, firing several volleys of tear gas. "They came out ofnowhere." one youth said later. The kids ran across the Common, trashed and looted two stores to the north, and burned a car before dispersing.

The police advanced slowly, giving the youths a chance to escape.

About the time of the sweep into the Common area. dozens of dark-suited Metropolitan District Commission police moved into positions on Mass Ave. and Mt. Auburn St., carrying shields and shotguns. The handful of people who had remained in the Square after the curfew left shortly afterward. Traffic was sent to side streets.

Police said they took seven people into custody for violating the curfew. all younger than 21. The seven were released to their parents, and no further charges will be filed. Police told most passers-by that they should not be on the streets because of the curfew, but did not detain them.


No demonstrators even entered the Square, and the police there bided their time drinking coffee supplied by the Bick or walking to the Pewter Pot. which remained open for the police.

A police photographer took motion pictures of a riot-equipped policeman who turned slowly in a circle for the benefit of the camera.

The curfew was lifted at 6 a.m. Not one window in the Square had been broken.

The police tactics Wednesday differed sharply from those of July 25. when they maintained low visibility-to avoid provoking the kids-until a crowd gathered on the Common stormed into the Square unchecked and broke dozens of windows.

The merchants, in their meeting earlier Wednesday, asked Cambridge officials for high police visibility in the next expected espoused.

Over 100 members of the Harvard Square Merchants' Association, meeting in the Brattle Theatre, warned Mayor Al Vellucei, City Manager Corcoran, Police Chief James Reagan, and five city councillors that riot damage had been very costly and had to be stopped.

Mean Business

Zavelle said yesterday the merchants asked that police move in quickly but give unruly crowds a chance to disperse. "But if a group wants to test the police-wants to see if they mean business-then the police should use whatever means are necessary, as they did Wednesday night."

Zavelle said the merchants realize that many young people "are dissatisfied with this society for many good reasons." But "we can't solve all the world's problems here. Just because people think Cambridge is the place to be-they're creating the problem. Cambridge can't be home and mother to them."

Representatives of the merchants had talked with representatives of groups which work with street people-Sanctuary, the Cambridge Problem Center,and the First Unitarian Church. The merchants had been told they should help finance bigger drug clinics, a halfway house with perhaps 300 beds, job training programs, and public baths and latrines.

"We simply can't absorb all that cost and survive ourselves," Zavelle said.

"We don't want to be the place to be," Zavelle said. So the merchants asked police to "get the least desirable [street people] out" of the Square.

"We're asking the police to try to do this reasonably. with restraint and with human dignity." he added.

A five-man merchants committee is being set up to work with the police and the city manager in making plans.

The merchants feel that their campaign is absolutely essential. Riot damage is only part of the problem. Zavelle said the Coop received 100 calls yesterday asking if the Square would be safe for shopping last night. Other potential shoppers presumably just go somewhere else.


People like to shop in pleasant places, Zavelle said, and most middle-aged customers no longer consider the Square, with its incredible assortment of freaks, a pleasant place.

Maybe "the kids in Harvard Square remind them too much of their own children," Zavelle added.

The merchants are betting that shoppers will find the increased police presence more pleasant than the onetime flower children.

And, Zavelle said, "the tide runs in and the tide runs out." The Harvard Square merchants hope the tide of street people is running out.

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