Tensions that ignited two days of rioting in a Hispanic and French-Canadian neighborhood last week may have less to do with racial bigotry than with poor living conditions, unemployment, and a lack of recreational programs, say Hispanic leaders and local officials.
Although street fighting and rock and fire-bomb throwing appeared to be racially motivated, the root causes of the violence ''have been brewing for more than 10 years,'' says Nunzio DiMarca, director of a local education and job-service program that serves Hispanics.
''Any time you have a large group of people who are disadvantaged and isolated from the mainstream, you have a potential for a problem like this,'' he says.
Problems did arise on a warm Wednesday night as two families - one Hispanic, one white - began fighting after the Hispanic family discovered its car windshield had been smashed. The two families reportedly had been feuding for weeks, and this incident touched off a neighborhood-wide melee that involved 150 people and 154 state and local police, according to police reports.
The rioting along Oxford Street, in one of the poorest sections of town, worsened Thursday night when 250 to 300 people took to the streets, police reports say. State Rep. Keven P. Blanchette (D) of Lawrence said this second disturbance might have been prevented if there had been more police protection.
But Representative Blanchette also acknowledged that a larger police presence , which could have helped in the short-term, will not solve the neighborhood's deep-seated problems.
''Look at these streets - they're terrible. And city services in this area are almost nonexistent,'' Blanchett said. ''What the area needs is to have the city enforce housing codes and provide stronger civic leadership as well as recreational programs.''