Peaceful protests in Boston turn violent

A woman holds a sign next to police on Nubian Square on Sunday. Photo by Caitlin Faulds / BU News Service

By Anoushka Dalmia, Caitlin Faulds and Devyani Chhetri
BU News Service

BOSTON – Downtown businesses are sweeping up and assessing damage the day after largely peaceful protests erupted into fires, broken store windows, looting and clashes between demonstrators and police Sunday night.

Thousands marched across Boston to protest police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a white police officer pinned him down with his knee during an arrest.

The march, beginning at Nubian Square and organized by Black Boston, was one of three demonstrations held in the city on Sunday. 

Mirroring dispatches across the country, the otherwise peaceful march ended with broken store windows, looting and protestors fleeing from tear gas shells and rubber bullets. The National Guard was activated to quell the violence.

Earlier in the evening, protesters hoisting “Black Lives Matter” and “White Silence equals Violence” placards, walked more than 2 miles north to Boston Common and the Massachusetts State House.

“We appreciate the organizers for putting this on, and we appreciate every officer who protects our community with empathy,” said State Rep. Chynah Tyler, D-Boston, as the protest began at 6:30 p.m. beside Dudley Station.

A protester passes Dudley Station holding a sign with George Floyd’s last words. Photo by Caitlin Faulds / BU News Service

“We still have a problem,” she said as more protesters filled the square and prepared to march. “Some officers think that because of the color of our skin, we’re less than.”

Designated marshals in yellow vests guided the march at checkpoints alongside cars that offered bottled water and snacks. As the procession passed through busy areas of Washington Street, the marshals stood to form barriers as protection from traffic. 

High school student Fleur Niboh felt she had no choice but to protest.

“Our daily lives are affected by this. It’s not just about police brutality, it’s systemic racism – in hospitals, in schools,” she said, expressing hope that protests in Boston would remain non-violent and asking for sympathy and compassion from the Boston Police Department.

Nearly 20 police from different precincts across Boston stood without riot gear at the intersection of Washington Street and Melnea Cass Boulevard. Some waved as protesters walked past. 

Residents signaled their support from balconies, and healthcare workers waved from the windows of Tufts Medical Center, igniting cheers from the crowd below. A family near Rutland Washington Community Garden banged utensils while a child held up a “Black Lives Matter” sign.

Two Lahey Hospital and Medical Center nurses, Jessica Barthold and Allisa Joseph, cheered on the crowd while in their scrubs. They were glad to see that most protesters were staying safe and wearing masks. But they were more impressed, Barthold said, by the power of so many coming together.

“Everybody thinks that this is just our racial war,” Joseph said. “But no, this is all about all of us.”

A 22-year-old protestor, who chose to remain anonymous, said that she viewed the police department as public servants.

“We want to police the police,” she said. “We want a review committee in every community, we want to subpoena them, have more people from the community in the police department.”

Protesters march down Washington Street from Nubian Square to Boston Common on Sunday. Photo by Caitlin Faulds / BU News Service

By the time the crowd reached Boston Common, it had just passed 8 p.m. Phones pointed up, flashlights turned on and protestors demanded justice for Floyd.

On Friday, Derek Chauvin, the officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter for Floyd’s death after days of protests in Minneapolis.

Around 9 p.m. protesters started heading home. Sarah B. and Fernandes F., both 22, noted that the protest had so far been “very peaceful, very productive.” But less than half an hour later on the other side of the Common, violence erupted.

Even as most protestors headed home, others remained on the scene. Police sirens grew louder, and tensions rose as tear gas and flash bombs were reportedly used. 

The Boston Police Department tweeted that protesters were throwing water bottles, rocks and bricks toward officers on Tremont Street.

Multiple tweets reported a police car driving through a crowd on Park Street. Police units converged around Copley Square after reported break-ins and looting on Newbury Street and Copley Place Mall. 

Blocked off streets and closed MBTA stations made it hard to leave the downtown area.

“Those now protesting in the streets of Boston have surrendered the moral high ground,” tweeted the Boston Police Department at 10 p.m., “as efforts to hurt and harm police officers continue to intensify in our city.”

According to police, 40 protesters were arrested, seven police officers were hospitalized with injuries and 21 police cruisers were damaged.

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