‘We Did Not Play a Role’: Caribbean Festival Organizers Speak Out

The Boston Caribbean Festival has become synonymous with violence, but the organizers say that’s not due to the lack of a robust presence from the Boston Police Department. A 2019 Boston Herald article linked multiple murders, shootings and stabbings dating back nearly three decades to the annual event.

The festival’s violent past was once again thrust into the spotlight this year after the mother of a teenager killed near the end of the J’ouvert parade route sounded off on Facebook. Boston Police said 17-year-old Javare Sommerville of Providence, Rhode Island was stabbed around 9:30 a.m. on August 28 in the area of Blue Hill Avenue and Columbia Road. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead

Tia Inez identified herself as Sommerville’s mother in a public Facebook post.

Live Boston 617 initially made contact with Inez on Facebook, but our subsequent requests for comment have gone unanswered. Ruth Georges, a spokeswoman for the Caribbean American Carnival Association of Boston, acknowledged the crime scene’s close proximity to the festival but said the parade had already wrapped up when the teen was stabbed.

“Our festival is not the reason this happened,” she said. “We did not play a role.” The CACAB still wanted to acknowledge the murder, so the president sent a wreath and monetary donation to the family on behalf of the organization.

“It’s unfortunate we’re associated with that level of violence,” Georges said. “Every year, we’re like, ‘Dear God, I really hope nothing happens this year.’” Largely considered the largest Black festival or parade in Massachusetts, in years past it has drawn tens to hundreds of thousands of people pre-covid.

However, this year’s event had an estimated attendance of around 5,000 people. Like last year, the official event had been canceled due to COVID-19. But last year, thousands of people still gathered. Georges said they decided to host an unofficial event this year so they could ensure proper safety and public health measures were in place.

Georges said she believes the festival’s huge crowd creates an ideal environment for bad actors looking to carry out violent acts. She said the criminals are often watching from afar and not taking part in the event itself. “They think there’s less opportunity someone will see them,” she said. Georges said organizers work closely with the city, including Boston Police, in the months leading up to the festival.

She said the city understands the value of the event and invests quite a bit of manpower to ensure the people in attendance are safe. She stressed the violence isn’t due to a lack of police officers working the event. “There are tons of police,” she said. “There are police assigned to every single band. There are police throughout the entire event, from J’ouvert parade until the end of the festival.”

Georges said the best piece of advice she can give people is if they see something, to say something. “If you see something that makes you uncomfortable, there are a ton of police around for you to say something,” she said. “Given the police presence, we wouldn’t see a delayed reaction in them protecting the citizens who are there.”

Boston Police Sergeant Detective John Boyle told Live Boston 617 that like in years past, the department had developed an in-depth operational plan for this year’s festival. He said the plan was developed over the course of several weeks and refined after several meetings with BPD commanders and event organizers.

“Based on intelligence, the BPD had a full call within the department so that appropriate resources were assigned to the event as well as all the City’s neighborhoods,” Boyle said.

The Boston Police Homicide Unit has been granted a warrant out of Dorchester District Court for Omara Shears in connection with Sommerville’s murder. Shears has been added to the department’s Most Wanted list. Police said Shears should be considered armed and dangerous.

If you know anything about his whereabouts, call the CrimeStoppers Tip Line at 1-800-494-TIPS or text the word ‘TIP’ to CRIME (27463). The Boston Police Department is interested only in your information, not your identity. Your tip is 100% anonymous. Calls or texts to CrimeStoppers are answered by police officers and trained personnel who forward the information to the appropriate investigators. You do not have to reveal your identity to the police to provide information about a crime.