Upham's Corner Online

Home Invasion - Boston Police:  "We came in anyway"

"We came in anyway." That's what the Boston police said when I met them outside. Someone called 911 complaining about "loud music at 15 Monadnock St."  But that was only the tip of the iceberg, the first clue in a much unraveling tale of neighbors, rumors, birthday parties and police "camped out" at my house.  It took a couple days for the full story to emerge.  Some of it is funny; some of it distresses me even today, months past.

The Police Come In Uninvited

Boston Police Department Badge I think it was a Saturday afternoon.  Whatever the day, I was working in my basement, my dogs with me. Suddenly, Toby barked and I heard heavy military-like footsteps over my head.  My heart "took flight" as Toby and I headed up the stairs, opened the door into the hallway and saw directly in front of us, two well-built, fully armed, fear inducing police officers. At the sight of Toby and, I'm sure, at his barking, one of them screamed at me:  "Get that dog out of here!" The police headed back out the front door.

I walked Toby back to the basement door, closing it behind me.  At the front door, the police officers sounded frustrated.  "Didn't you hear us knocking, over and over?"  It sounded like they thought I had been hiding from them. For how was it possible, with their fervent knocking, that I would not have heard someone at the front door?  In my house, that's very easy. It was built in 1893 and has heavy timbers and heavy doors. If I'm working in the basement, I hear nothing. On top of that I don't have a doorbell.

"Someone called 911," they said: "Loud music at 15 Monadnock St. We didn't hear any music but we came in anyway."  Mind boggling!  They "came in anyway?"  Mind you, coming into my house would have been easy as I had left the front door propped open.  It was a hot day and I wanted a fresh breeze.  Still the idea that two police officers would enter my home then scream at me to "get that dog out of here" seemed a bit strange especially when "there was no blood."  If they hadn't heard any loud music, what were they thinking? I turned the loud music off just in the knick of time?? 

I said to them:  "I never play loud music, Period.  Not in the house and not out of the house. But the kids across the street love to put a boom box in their 2nd floor front window and play it really loud. I like it when they do that," and I started to dance.  "There's spunky life in those kids when they are having fun."  Sounded a little like I was incriminating myself just by saying this so I changed the subject.  The police eventually left.

Planning a Birthday Party

Face book notice:  Shemiram's birthday was coming up.  Wouldn't it be nice if we had a little surprise birthday party for her!!  Something small - like a couple friends and a cake.  Well, wouldn't ya know.  The other potential co-conspirator in birthday affairs happened to call me – Carol, but not about Shemiram's birthday. She was calling because Lisa said something's wrong at Nancy's house (over and over). And this is what Lisa told Carol.

The police were camped out at Nancy's house (that's me). Tito told Bob that he hadn't seen me recently and neighbors decided the government had taken over my house and forced me out.(Of course, no one had called or stopped by to find out the truth) Bob then told Alma who told Lisa (a tenant). Lisa called Catherine and Shemiram and Carol.  Carol said Lisa had been calling her so many times she wasn't answering the phone.  I was a bit overwhelmed by the story, as far-fetched as it was because it was beginning to sound real.  Not one smidgen, was true, but Carol kept saying how worried Lisa was. As for Lisa, I have barely said two sentences to her in my entire life though I have seen her at neighborhood meetings.

Finally, I got tired of this nonsense.  "Carol, did you know that Shemiram's birthday is coming up? How would you like to have a surprise birthday party for her?" Carol said she was already going there to make handmade paper.  "Great," I said. "Let's plan to add a bit of a birthday surprise." Carol agreed.  So on the appointed day, early, I headed off to Stop & Shop not having any idea what I would buy. But I found a small chocolate cake that I thought would be perfect – big enough to write "Happy Birthday, Shemiram" on it.  Well, not quite. We managed an "H.B. Shemiram" and that was just delightful. 

When I got home, who should I find in my front yard but Shemiram and Lisa. Now I was annoyed for there could only be one answer.  "What are you doing here?"  Lisa did all the talking. She was very worried she said. She was afraid that something bad had happened to me. Since she had no idea where I lived, she contacted Shemiram and they both trotted over.  I found them walking from my backyard.  "Your door was open but nobody was there."  Lisa proceeded to tell me the full measure of the rumors about me, the police, the encampment, my house, ….  All the while I kept seeing the chocolate cake melting (it was July) in the back of my van. "O woe, O woe, the beautiful greeting to Shemiram may soon disappear amidst all this hot air."

"Lisa, do you have any idea what the Bible says about gossiping?" Wrong question.  Lisa said she knew everything the Bible says about gossiping.  And, she says, this is not gossip.  "I am your friend."  I had no idea how to counter anything this woman was saying.  She sounded genuinely concerned and I know she thought she was doing the right thing.  But I didn't need her help. There was nothing wrong!  And a full half hour had passed since I got home. "Lisa, I really need to get going."  Off they headed towards the high numbers of Monadnock Street.  

"I know," I thought, "I will drive around the block to Shemiram's house and surely Shem will be home by then." Not true. At the corner of Virginia and Monadnock, there stood Shemiram and Lisa, talking. I drove right past them and parked in front of Shemiram's house, then walked down to greet them hoping to coax Shemiram back to her house.  So what did Lisa do? She headed off to Carol's house. She said she needed to explain to Carol that everything was all right with Nancy. "No! Carol is supposed to be at the party."

So, sweet and unassuming Shemiram invited me in.  "For a nice cup of coffee." "But what," I thought to myself, "about the birthday cake in the back of my van getting softer and warmer with every passing minute?"  Seated around the lovely and inviting table in Shemiram's kitchen nook, we talked about what had happened. I told her the story of the police coming to my house. I still couldn't imagine, I said, how that could have led to such an exaggerated rumor about me.

Inside my head, the worried voice was chatting away.  "Where is Carol?  Is she still talking to Lisa? Did she forget about the party? Oh, I can't stand another minute of this!" Finally, I wrenched myself away:  "Shem, I need to run a quick errand. I'll be right back."  I ran down the street to Carol's house - Lisa had just left she said.  "Can you come now?" I asked.  "Just a minute" and she returned with a most beautiful plate of cut fruit. 

Yeah!  It was the moment I had been waiting for. No Lisa. No police. No distractions whatsoever.  Let the party begin!  We stood at the front door, gifts in hand.  I rang the bell and but a moment later, the door opened.  "Happy birthday to you.  Happy birthday to you.  Happy birthday dear Shemiram.  Happy birthday to you."  Talk about a surprise! "Come in, come in."  Again seated at her table, we thanked each other for the joy of friendship and over a hot cup of coffee, Carol's fruit hit the spot and my chocolate cake was ceremonial and sweet.  An hour passed and it was time to go - a day I will never forget.

The Story Grows in Magnitude

BPD Badge & Insignia But that wasn't the end of the story. Towards evening, Atanasio, one of the nicest residents of Monadnock Street, a Cape Verdean gentleman and sweetheart, came waltzing across the street.  "Hey, Nancy, what's happening?" in his wonderful creole accent, I knew why he was coming to visit.  What else!  Diagonally across the street from my house is where the Cape Verdean comrades hang out with their cans of beer, their stories and laughter. What ever happens at my house is clearly visible to them.

So I told Atanasio "the story.".  But what he told me was even more amazing.  First, he described the exact racial and ethnic makeup of every police officer who stopped at my house including the hue of their skin - light or dark.  Three squad cars, he said.  Apparently, the rumor that the police had been camped out in front of my house was based on fact - well sort of.  "The police," he said "were at your house three different times."  And they went all through your property."  (Felt like rape) "They came over to visit us, too."  "If you guys are playing loud music, would you please keep it down." 

"How was it possible," I asked Atanasio "that the police could get three calls for loud music at my house? That's totally nuts."  Then I said to him without mentioning any names: "One of the residents of Virginia Street calls 911 all the time about noise."  "I know who you are talking about," he said.  "Atanasio," I said, pleading for understanding, "I have lived in this neighborhood for almost 30 years.  We have always had lots of noise.  That's what life is like here." "I know," he said, looking somewhat annoyed as if to say:  "What is life coming to?"

On Wednesday, Shemiram called.  "Your house came up in the police report at the Westside neighborhood meeting.  It was the person you suspected who called the police.  She said she told 911 'across from 15 Monadnock St.' but somehow the police ended up at your house."

As time passes and heals, so do the memories and interpretations of events change.  I am grateful for Lisa, despite her meddling.  If she had not come to my home, I would never have known the full story of police encampment and takeover.  Nor would I have experienced the depth of pain engendered by one person who insists on getting her way, an experience that has precedent with other neighbors as well.

So I started asking questions to get a different perspective,  This is what I have learned from police officers:

  • 911 does not accept a description "across from or nearby." They try to get an exact address.  Otherwise the police won't know where to go."  So what exactly did the 911 caller say?   
  • About the home invasion?  "If your door was open, the police would have come in.  To the police, an open door looks like a break-in."  I guess it does to them. To me it looks a house with a breeze coming in. 

Another police officer said this: "So many times when my wife and I are together, I keep seeing the danger in every scenario and around every corner while my wife sees the beauty. As police officers we are taught to look for danger even where it doesn't exist. That gets tiresome. When I go to visit my family in South America, I leave my police mentality behind."

We Love Uphams CornerOur Neighborhood is Changing

 Shemiram and Carol and I are still friends. Lisa and Alma have moved. The neighborhood is changing. The question is this:  Is it changing for the better? 

There was a time in 1990 when Monadnock St. and the intersection of Monadnock and Dudley Streets constituted a Police Department holding zone for drug dealing - at least that was the word in the street.  In fact so was Uphams Corner until the Tasty Chicken murder.  In 1990 three murders occurred on my street.  And another: The woman who took care of my children was also taking care of the son of one of the biggest drug dealers in Boston. Didn't take long and he was murdered, too, in the Fenway.

My have times changed. Or have they?  Around 10:30 at night just the other day, I approached a police car with the window down - in front of Foot Locker on Dudley.  "Don't fall asleep," I called out. "There's not much going on in Uphams Corner these days."  His answer surprised me. "Yeah," he said with a distinct edge of sarcasm. "Safest place in Boston!"

The Halloween night years ago when I opened the front gate to walk my dogs and, in the moonlight, saw a man standing on the roof of one of the businesses on Dudley Street, pointing a gun down towards street level - that's when I appreciated the rapid arrival of the police.  What I can't understand is the police dispatched to my house three times because someone calls about loud noises while the police take that as seriously as gun shots.

How much of the police department's time is wasted on calls from people who want to dictate their sense of decency or civility to the rest of the community - to the "heathens" who, by the way, are living here in harmony with their neighbors.  Black people, Haitian people, Hispanic people, African and Cape Verdean people and some white people (me) who do not necessarily have the same attitudes about congregating, making noise and having fun as many of those who are protesting in favor of a post gentrification movement.

Community Counts

What counts is community.  Are we neighbors?  Do I enjoy being part of a street full of people different from me - people of many races and ethnic groups, speaking in tongues and "crazy" dialects?  And how about the noisy kids? Skate boards?  Those dang'd noisy mopeds?  Do I express my thanks, shake hands, smile, offer help and praise, maybe even blow a kiss when I pass by?

Or am I blinded by the need to have things my way?  The noise that sends me into a rage, that changes how I see my neighbors - call the police.  Yes!!  They'll handle it for me.   

What mindset will it take to see and appreciate the full scope of humanity so abundant in Uphams Corner?   I think I liked Uphams Corner better - way back when.  Noise was more tolerated and loud music was indicative of people who were different from me, and we all figured out how to get along. 

Happy Birthday, Shemiram!!  Happy birthday to you, and many more.

Posted: November 20, 2013     Nancy J Conrad

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