Lawrence Back in the News

Back in March, we ran a story by writer Jay Atkinson about the many challenges faced by Lawrence called “City of the Damned.” There was lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of reaction to it. A couple dozen concerned citizens from the city even marched on our office to protest our portrayal of their hometown. Today, there was a bit more reaction, with the New York Times writing a story headlined, “After Seeing a Dismal Reflection of Itself, a City Moves to Change,” about efforts in the city to improve its image since our piece ran. The TimesJess Bidgood reports:

So bleak is Lawrence’s image that a recent article in Boston magazine, highlighting the city’s busy drug trade and controversial politics, proclaimed it to be the “most godforsaken place in Massachusetts.”

For many who live here, those were fighting words.

“I was shaking, scrambling to get my words together,” said Aliali Belkus, who grew up here and now teaches at Lawrence High School, describing her response to the magazine article. “Not because it wasn’t true, but because it was a very one-sided image of the city,” she continued. “We’ve become the punching bag.”

Interestingly, most of the complaints we got about the piece were fairly similar. Nobody disputed the truth of anything in the story; rather, people were upset with how Lawrence was being portrayed in a negative light. As such, a group called We Are Lawrence has formed to try to improve the city’s image (this is the same group that sent people to our office).

As Bidgood notes in her story, though, the activists are strictly apolitical. And herein lies the problem. Improving Lawrence’s PR does little to address the very real problems in the city. That’s not to say that there aren’t lots of good people there trying hard to make things better. Certainly there are (and the cash mobs Bidgood reports about sound like great events). But better PR won’t fix the very real crime problems Chief of Police John Romero noted both in our story and in the Times. And better PR certainly won’t fix the toxic political culture created by Mayor William Lantigua — currently under investigation by federal and state authorities — and his cronies. Really, as long as Lantigua is around, it’s hard to imagine anything in the city getting much better.