MLK legacy honored as protests continue
Protesters block I-93, demonstrate in Downtown Boston
Last Thursday, demonstrators in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement stopped traffic on Interstate 93, chaining themselves to 1,200 pound concrete-filled barrels in an action that garnered international attention.
Friday, members of the Massachusetts Legislative Black and Latino Caucus filed several bills aimed at making police accountable for stopping black motorists and pedestrians, and appointing outside investigators to probe police shootings and misconduct.
Monday, at Boston’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast, elected officials invoked the civil rights martyr’s nonviolent struggle as a precursor to today’s Black Lives Matter movement.
“They are following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, fighting violence with non-violence, brutality with humility,” said U.S. Sen. Edward Markey of the protesters. His remarks drew a standing ovation.
“We have a new generation of activists coming to the fore,” said state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz.
“We have seen you. We have heard you. We are proud to be on your team.”
Noah McKenna, one of the 29 demonstrators arrested for last Thursday’s action, said the protesters were responding to a call from activists in Ferguson, Missouri who urged activists to block highways.
“Highways play a central role in business-as-usual,” he said. “Shutting a highway down is an effective way to get people’s attention. Based on the amount of attention we got, I think it’s confirmation that the tactic was well-chosen.”
Monday afternoon, a crowd estimated at more than 1,000 demonstrators marched from the old State House to the Boston Common in an action organizers said drew connections between King’s civil rights legacy and the activists’ current fight against police brutality, mass incarceration and growing economic inequality.
Northeastern University student Brandi Artez, an organizer of Monday’s march, said the demonstrations — on Interstate 93 and in Downtown Boston Monday — are essential for keeping attention on the issues the nascent movement is embracing.
“The demonstrations make people notice,” she said. “I support any and all non-violent actions.”
Artez, who grew up in the Villa Victoria housing development in the South End, said she often sees police violating the rights of blacks and Latinos in the South End.
“On a summer afternoon, they do a sweep and just pick anyone they see and put them against the wall and search them,” she said. “I’ve had undercover cops come up to my car with their guns drawn. It’s terrifying.”
The legislative package filed by the Black and Latino Caucus members would require all Massachusetts police departments to record data on all pedestrian and motor vehicle stops, including the race of those stopped, the name of the officer and the reason they were stopped, and make data on their stops public.
One bill would also require police to issue receipts to anyone they stop and question, informing them of the reason they were stopped and the name of the officer. Another bill would require that all police shootings be investigated by an inspector general, rather than by police themselves or district attorneys.
Artez said the proposed legislation would be a “step in the right direction.”
“It would bring some accountability to the police,” she said. “It doesn’t work to have the district attorney, who works with the police, investigating the police.”
At the King Breakfast, an annual event hosted by Union United Methodist Church and St. Cyprians Episcopal Church, much of the talk was of Civil Rights Movement milestones from 50 years ago — the march on Selma, Alabama, King’s march in Boston and his appearance before the Massachusetts Legislature.
Organizers of the breakfast showed a clip from the film Selma,”depicting King in 1965 Alabama.
Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination Commissioner Charlotte Golar Richie said the current wave of protesters have the same potential to change America as the activists of yore.
“Dr. King was young,” she said. “He was still in his 30s when he led this movement. We need young people to feel empowered, to know that their voices matter.”
Another historical parallel
While last Thursday’s shutdown on Interstate 93 garnered international attention — and 29 arrests — a similar action more than 30 years ago yielded a different outcome, a blogger noted on the Blue Mass Group website. On April 29, 1981, Boston firefighters protesting city budget cutbacks marched from a Dorchester union hall to the Southeast Expressway and marched along the highway, stopping traffic for 20 minutes, according to contemporary news reports. There were no arrests in that action, nor in a half-hour-long demonstration on the Southeast Expressway and several other major arteries on May 1 of that year.