Lawrence: A Tale of Two Cities

Members of the Andover Police Department gave a seminar to the Class of 2019 during Wellness Week about the drug and alcohol problem in the both the town of Andover and our school community. In one part of the talk, officers began to discuss Lawrence, Mass., and described the many drug dealers from Lawrence that sell illicit substances to Andover residents. They spent a considerable amount of time depicting the drug issue in Lawrence as pressing and widespread.

When I heard these claims, I was incredibly offended and protective of the city I have lived in for the past 11 years. I acknowledge that I am inevitably biased because of my love of and history with the city. Still to me, however, it seemed like the police officers were exaggerating the drug problem in Lawrence, characterizing my home as a place filled with crime and violence. My face became flushed. Angry and somewhat irrational thoughts filled my mind, and I saw the officers offering a severely one-sided narrative that misrepresented my town. It bothered me more when I heard disparaging comments about Lawrence that depicted it as a town filled with drugs and violence. It seemed as though the officer painted a largely incomplete narrative of the city, thus influencing biases in the other students.

I’ve had some time to rationalize, control my anger and reflect on various perspectives of the city of Lawrence. I have continued to find, though, that the general public tends to present this largely one-sided view of the city. Boston Magazine, for instance, called Lawrence the “City of the Damned” and “the most godforsaken place in Massachusetts.” Headlines and articles like these bring unnecessary fear and introduce prejudice to outsiders, distorting their views of the city.

The difference between outsiders and myself is that I’ve had the opportunity to live in and understand the city of Lawrence. Yes, I have relatives and friends that have dealt with the worst that Lawrence has to offer. I know people impacted by robberies, drug deals and violence. Unemployment is high and the politics are dirty. These facts often end up making headlines. But, this is not the full view of the city. I speak from personal experience when I say that Lawrence has endless positives to offer as well.

The best thing the city has to offer is its incredible sense of community and pride. I’ve been to the Y.M.C.A., the churches and the meal centers. Many of the people in Lawrence are proud of what they do and are proud of their community. It’s big enough to never make you feel bored, but small enough that you are never lost or alone. Walking down Broadway, you have no trouble finding a barbershop or bodega. Basketball and soccer are immensely popular, and there is always a friendly pickup game closeby. The city has a deep and rich history from when it was a melting pot for immigrants that worked in the mills. There is also a lively, welcoming Catholic community that has supported me and helped shape who I am.

The point of this article is not to outlet all of my anger, but to clear up the generalizations about Lawrence. Of course, the city is plagued by the omnipresent issues of poverty and crime. It would be wrong for me to characterize Lawrence as a utopia. We must, however, cease to see it from a one-sided point of view.

I was conflicted to even write about this topic because I thought it might come off as defensive and overly sensitive. Yet, the harmful generalizations surrounding Lawrence must be brought into campus conversation. Every city has generalizations surrounding it, but it is important not to let ignorance get in the way of respecting and understanding each unique setting. For Andover, a community that prides itself on pushing societal norms, it is vital that we challenge and correct these misconceptions. Lawrence is a ten-minute drive away from our campus, and it is important that we better accept and comprehend the entirety of this city.