About 30 attendees spent the evening of February 14th, Valentine’s Day, at the Area 4 Youth Center to discuss with heavy hearts the February 8th loss of 18-year-old Lucien Christalin. Christalin was by all accounts well loved and had bright future prospects for continuing success. He was a role model to younger kids and held two jobs, one at City Hall and one at the youth center. A teacher had already written him a college recommendation. As one attendee said, “Lucien was considered a success story, with distinct goals for his life.” However, continued the speaker, “peer pressure is hard to resist.”
Tonight clergy, police and residents tried to comprehend why this young man would find himself on a Friday night with friends playing with a gun. From his family members who are experiencing the unthinkable loss of their loved one; to fellow CRLS students, friends and neighbors who came out in droves to a candlelight vigil -- to new officers fresh out of the police academy who have been involved in the aftermath of the shooting incident -- the community has been profoundly affected.
Now all are awaiting the results of an ensuing grand jury investigation and forensic evidence from the lab. While trying to keep the community as informed as possible, the detectives and police while awaiting the criminal justice process outcomes, cannot speak freely on all aspects of the incident. However, addressing the packed room, they tell us, “We’re pretty certain this was an accidental shooting.”
An audience member wants to know if drugs were recovered at the scene of the shooting. To give an overview of the local context of guns and drugs, the police spokesman said that overall, 20 to 40 illegal guns had been recovered locally last year. Use of heroin and crack is down but synthetic, homemade drugs like ecstasy and methamphetamine, as well as marijuana, are common now. But even though police see that many times “drugs and guns go together,” in the case of Lucien, they believe that “drugs had nothing to do with this incident.”
Upon hearing of Christalin’s death, workers from multiple agencies including grief councilors at the high school and human services workers, tried to address the needs of the community. An attendee this night asks what makes this kind of thing happen in Area 4 more than other places. A police lieutenant responds, “This incident could have happened anywhere -- in Brattle Street, in the suburbs… it’s a tragic accident.”
Another attendee noted that teenagers around guns is not a unique situation -- there have been 3 or 4 recent incidents where youth have been accidentally shot in our community.
Since last summer, police tell us they have noticed “high-end, high-caliber” semiautomatic pistol, brand name guns like Glock, and Smith and Wesson in the hands of young people. They have consulted with the district attorney and state police, but it is not yet clear where the guns are obtained. Gun buy-back programs in the past have not been successful in getting this type of gun, but gets mostly gets old junk guns from gun dealers, which is not the goal of that program.
How do we respond to this unacceptable situation to prevent tragedies such as what happened to Lucien Christalin?
The consensus at this meeting was that it is hard to find a more resource-rich city than Cambridge. In cases of minor offenses, there can be early intervention from a Juvenile Diversion Program from Youth and Family Services Unit of Health and Human Services. This program connects youth and families to resources that will help them stay clear of the criminal justice system and move a child into positive engagement.
How can agencies work together better?
The crime that we are experiencing in this community, notes the probation officer, “is going on throughout the nation.” He said, “It’s been a very user-friendly police department… (The Area 4 Youth Center) has worked well with the Commissioner and with the Boys’ Club. We need your help,” he added, “to let kids know the Teen Center is here.”
An older attendee wants to know what programs exist at the high school to let young people know that handling illegal guns is a violation of state laws that can send them to prison for one year. A younger attendee says that lot of kids do know the consequences of having an illegal gun.
One youth worker present said he had met with 10 to 12 year olds about the shooting incident that killed Lucien. Out of 18 kids from Cambridge, 12 said they had been in the presence of weapons. He believed that they revealed this information because he sees them every day.
A youth worker present said that six youths at a meeting he attended, said that if they wanted one, they could get a handgun very easily.
A youth worker in the room shared how a sixth grader was heard to say, “What do I care… I’m not going to live long enough.” The youth worker then challenged the audience to consider, “How do we get youth young enough, before they’re disenfranchised?”
A man who works at the high school in security says, “Kids know the street, but need more direction… We need older people being involved. When I came up, we had grandparents involved. Now some kids don’t have that.”
Mayor Simmons emphasizes, “It’s not necessarily an absence of programs – it’s the ability to connect with the individual… it’s the application. We are a resource-rich city.”
Margaret Fuller House’s Alison Handy said our challenge is to “connect the dots amongst ourselves” in regards to service.
A former educator and researcher would like to see us bring our imagination and fiscal resources to the question of, “How do you make youth feel like they have agency within the school system?”
The high school security worker who had previously spoken, noted that in basketball, he sees 7 and 8 year old pre-teens. Once these youths get to high school, he noticed, “there is a disconnect and their behaviors significantly change… They think they know what life is about, but they are just beginning.” He believes that we need to focus on grammar schools.
Selvin Chambers, a board member at the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House, praised the basketball league that is organized by Richard Harding and supported by Pentecostal Tabernacle of Columbia Street, as a good way to connect with youth. He also had good words for Area 4 Pride Day and the Margaret Fuller House neighborhood dinners. He challenged the audience to not just ask what the police are doing, but to “ask yourself: ‘How can I be involved in my community?’”
Other initiatives mentioned as valuable tools included the Peace Commission’s Peace Circles (described as “very powerful”); “STAR” (Students Advocating Respect) peer mediation students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin; and “DVD” (Deal with Violence Differently). One mediation advocate urged role playing for young people: What happens when you’re in a room and something is going on like weapons and drugs -- How do you walk away and save face?
A man in the audience said we should ask professionals at youth centers what they need, and also ask young people what they need. Mayor Simmons responded saying that this research has already been done, of going to teen centers to find out what to do to improve programming, and find out why some kids don’t go to youth centers.
An attendee who works with youth noted that inner city youth are not aware of the bigger world around them. “When you see a young person who does not know where Cape Cod is… we need to take young people out of the city. For example, in his youth work, his group took young people to Washington DC to see colleges.
A woman who lives in Newtown Court has observed the large number of kids around. She poses the question, “What would make a child get a gun?” And answers her own question, “It has to do with power.” Children, she says, need to be inspired and believe that “there is some sort of future” for them. She adds, “It’s not about ‘fixing’ youth – it’s about inspiration.”
A middle-aged man well known for both his unconventionalism and community involvement, remarked that “what is missing here is connection, engagement… People are not talking to one another” and that in order for programs to “take fire,” this vital ingredient is needed. “We’re not talking to the parents of kids. It needs to be personal. It’s about being. If we’re not communicating -- why? We have to have time, fresh energy. There’s not enough people to make the sinews of a community that feels like one.” We have to be vigilant about both “dis” (disrespect) and “dif” (indifference). He suggests “word fire” – a program where we as a community talk and try to “develop the stimulation that’s better than TV.”
Miss Toni Bee, a parent of a small child, wonders, “How do we inspire parents?” and suggests that maybe we need a parent program. She invited the community to attend Margaret Fuller House’s poetry night dedication to Lucien Christalin on Wednesday, 6:00pm to 8:00pm on February 20th, to discuss love, loss and violence prevention.
Mayor Simmons wondered out loud, “How do we reach the whole child and reach parents so they feel supported and encouraged?”
One attendee who works at the Area 4 Teen Center and is a probation officer notes how youth responded to this tragedy with caring. Mayor Denise Simmons agreed, saying that at the vigil for Christalin, “It had to be a hundred kids standing in the freezing cold… mourning the loss of one of their own.”
There seemes to be a consensus this night that gun violence is a complicated problem. As voiced by one attendee, shifting perspective from the glamorization of guns in movies and videos is “a tough nut to crack.” And there were no easy answers on how to prevent another tragedy like the hard loss of Lucien Christalin.
A woman in the audience cautioned that “we should not run too fast past this moment of mourning.” That although losing 18 year old Lucien Christalin – a man in the prime of life with so much potential -- to a gunshot is a moment of horror, it is also a teaching moment that we should learn from.
The video on this blog is a tribute by Anthony Beckford and thoughts on what it is like to be a young person at this time. Anthony attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School with Lucien Cristalin.