The following letter was released by Centro Presente yesterday regarding the cancellation of their hip-hop concert scheduled for Friday of last week at the Somerville High School.
May 5, 2005
Dear City of Somerville:
In response to the numerous phone calls and e-mails we have received in connection with the cancellation of our youth Hip Hop Concert for Justice both in Somerville and Cambridge, we write to address the questions that this situation has generated.
According to the official position of the City of Somerville, through its School Superintendent, its police department and its Mayor, the cancellation in Somerville was due to a permitting problem.
We wish to acknowledge up front that we did not have the appropriate permit. However, we wish to share our truth by describing a series of events as they unfolded the week of the concert. These events call into question the transparency with which Somerville city officials handled the process and demonstrate, at least to us, the little support we received and by extension our youth. Our intention is not to stir controversy. Our intention is simply to state our truth.
On Monday, April 28, four days before the concert, we were contacted by the School Superintendent raising concerns about the safety of concert-goers given a Boston police bulletin allegedly suggesting that the event could become “inflammatory.”
Later, we received a phone call from a Somerville police lieutenant echoing the Superintendent’s concerns and adding that we did not have the appropriate permit.
Other reasons that were cited in our cancellation included the fact that we were charging a nominal fee of $3.00; that it was for youth ages 12 to 18 and the range was apparently not acceptable; and that our concert was not exclusively for Somerville youth, but rather would bring youth from the Greater Boston area.
Conversations with the police lieutenant made it clear that the police department was not interested in helping us figure out a way to make the event safer, but rather wanted to make sure that we did not have the event altogether. When we asked about how to get the final two signatures to complete the permitting process, the lieutenant indicated that even if we had the permit, there was too much of a concern for safety given recent drive-by shootings in the area.
We respected the decision that was made by Somerville, and as an organization, decided to look for other options outside of the city, given their unwillingness to help us come up with creative solutions and alternatives to hold our event safely.
We were very fortunate to partner with Cambridge Area IV Youth Center who in a very short notice agreed to co-sponsor the event. Through our process in finding support in Cambridge, we were very honest in giving the reasons why our event had been cancelled in Somerville. Despite the outcome in Somerville, we were able to secure police detail from Cambridge and the Mayor agreed to attend the event. We were very happy and relieved with the support we received in Cambridge and with the opportunity to go ahead with the concert.
Late in the day before the concert, we received a call from a Cambridge city official indicating that the Cambridge Police was no longer willing to allow us to have the event in Cambridge. Someone from the Somerville Police Department had contacted the Cambridge Police Department and convinced them to cancel the event. This was confirmed the following morning in a conversation held between our Executive Director and an officer from the Cambridge Police Department.
The chain of events described above is what resulted in the cancellation of our event twice. In addition to having been profoundly disappointed, the experience has generated important questions for us.
If we did not have the right permit, we ask why were we not given the option to postpone the event while the right process was followed to obtain the appropriate permit?
Why was the Somerville police not willing to support us even if we had been given the appropriate permit?
If it was simply a permitting issue, why did the Somerville police contact the Cambridge police?
All of these questions and issues are perplexing to us especially in light of the recent Peace Conference organized by another youth organization in Somerville which brought together close to 700 youth from the Greater Boston area on April 12. The conference was held at the same auditorium in Somerville High School that we originally reserved. A modest fee of $3.00 was charged of participants, the same amount that we had planned on charging.
We are concerned about the lack of clarity and transparency as events unfolded. We do not disagree with the importance of ensuring the safety of our youth. In fact, we fully share those concerns. However, we take issue with the lack of support we received.
The spirit of our Hip Hop Concert for Justice was to build community and to re-affirm values of democracy, hospitality, compassion and respect for the basic humanity of all. It was indeed unfortunate that the event was cancelled not once, but twice. This was a profound disappointment for our youth, who worked diligently for weeks organizing the event. Moreover, it was frustrating for our guests, which included members from the foundation and academic communities, colleagues from sister organizations and artists that promote positive values through their music.
However, no hay mal que por bien no venga, or something good can come out of a tough situation. So we hope to use this unfortunate turn of events to reach out to all in Somerville who deeply care about our youth. We hope that everyone in the city of Somerville can begin to have authentic conversations about how to really stem off youth violence. We believe it is not by closing spaces to them, but rather by promoting their talent and channeling their energies into safe, fun and creative activities.
We thank everyone in the City of Somerville and beyond who has expressed support and solidarity during this frustrating and confusing time. We look forward to building stronger and more honest relationships across sectors in the City of Somerville.
Centro Presente and Friends.
Editor’s note : Centro Presente is in the process of moving its office from Cambridge to Somerville.