SALEM — Gun violence is not just isolated to the Point neighborhood, Salem officials say — it can happen in neighborhoods across the city.
Police are still investigating back-to-back weekend shootings reported in the Point, an area of mostly minority groups, just southeast of downtown Salem. The first, on Aug. 3, involved a drive-by shooting of an 18-year-old Everett woman on Chase Street, while the second one took place this past weekend on Palmer Street, by the neighborhood's Mary Jane Lee Park.
Police say they don't believe the two shootings are related, but the violence has still put the neighborhood under a city-wide spotlight some argue it doesn't deserve.
"It's unfortunate that the two incidents that happened have happened in The Point, but it isn't any more a dangerous place than any other place in the city," police Chief Mary Butler said.
"We've been enjoying a good record of stabilizing things, getting people involved in meetings, a lot of activity — positive activity," said Lucy Corchado, who heads the Point Neighborhood Association. "When something like this happens, obviously people are frustrated and disappointed. We don't want to see the good things happening in the neighborhood being forgotten in these acts."
Community waiting for answers
City Councilor Bob McCarthy, whose ward includes the area, said he's heard from a wide range of voices, "and obviously, there are concerns. They have concerns for themselves and their children."
And it happens as minimal information about the shootings is publicly released.
"It's a fine line when you try to deal with (incidents like this)," McCarthy said. "You let the police deal with it the best way we can."
But sometimes, that activity sounds like silence.
"I give the chief a lot of credit, her and her department, for doing as much — trying to solve a crime and trying to keep a delicate balance between saying something and trying to investigate it at the same time," McCarthy said. "The chief has to walk that line, where she doesn't want to make a statement too quickly, nor does she want herself or any of us to say something that could jeopardize the investigation or, God forbid, put someone in harm's way by speaking out of turn."
Now, at least, the department has started talking. On Wednesday, Butler wrote to Corchado and the association, explaining that the two shootings "have left residents feeling shaken and concerned for their safety."
"While all incidents of violence are unnerving, the close proximity of these two episodes, both in time and place, and the fact that they both involved firearms are disturbing and not something that the police or the community we serve will or should tolerate," Butler wrote. "To that end, the Salem police have been working hard to identify and bring to justice those behind these violent acts."
The shootings have also given the department an opportunity to talk about its Strategic Task Force, a tool police have used since 2016 to step up community policing, Butler said.
The task force brings with it a "boots on the ground" approach to law enforcement. Patrols work at unspecified times, both in uniform and in plainclothes, and provide a more direct connection to the residents they serve, according to Butler.
"In the last four years — that includes this year, which isn't even done — up to this point, we've had 350 additional patrols in that area," Butler said. "It just happens to be that this occurred here, within close proximity of The Point neighborhood."
Butler was asked whether the task force could've done anything differently to prevent the shootings.
"Could anything have been done differently?" Butler repeated. "We have a weird situation in our society right now, where things are very impersonalized."
Gone are the days, she said, where people with disputes settle them with heated conversation on a sidewalk. Now, guns play a bigger role — something that Corchado made note of in her remarks.
"We have this easy access to guns, and that's a whole other issue," Corchado said. "But we want to make sure that there's, first, trust with our local officials, participation and cooperation with the residents, that whenever they see or hear something, that they feel comfortable enough to report it — even in an anonymous fashion."
To that end, the department's anonymous tip line is being restarted after it was taken offline years ago due to lack of use, according to Butler. That was still in process on Wednesday, so a phone number for the line wasn't available yet.
Could happen anywhere
"I know some of the conversation has gone to gangs and involvement with gangs (in the Point)," Butler said. "The bottom line is, I can tell you right now that I can go into every neighborhood across the city and be able to articulate that there is a person or persons with some kind of gang affiliation. Whether it's the Red Devils or Crazy White Boys, Crips, Bloods, you name it — it goes on and on with different affiliations.
"That happens across the city," she continued.
So where does the neighborhood go from here?
"People do realize that a lot of the stereotypes are unfounded," Corchado said. "Unfortunately, these incidents don't help — clearly. But it doesn't take away from the fact that you have a lot of good people living in the neighborhood wanting to ensure everyone can live as happily and safely as possible — as much as anyone in any other neighborhood."
Corchado, however, has lobbied for Salem residents to look at gun violence as a regional problem. That's in part because the shootings could've happened anywhere, she explained.
"It happens throughout the city," she said. "I think the fact that two have happened within the span of a week is concerning, not only to the residents in the neighborhood but it should be concerning to the entire city. We don’t want things that in one neighborhood can easily happen anywhere else."