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Local electeds united in opposition to police violence

Kenneal Patterson
Local electeds united in opposition to police violence
Rachael Rollins speaks during a press conference at City Hall Plaza Monday. PHOTO: JOHN WILCOX, MAYOR’S OFFICE

Thousands of protestors took to the streets of Boston over the weekend in memory of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25 and whose death ignited protests nationwide. Mayor Martin Walsh joined Police Commissioner William G. Gross and District Attorney Rachael Rollins Monday to acknowledge the largely peaceful protests and warn against violence.

 

“I want to say to all of those peaceful demonstrators your words, your testimony, your call to action, move me and you are moving our society forward,” Walsh said. “We will continue that conversation and lead that progress because that’s who we are in Boston. But what happened in downtown after the protests ended was an attack on those values. And it was an attack on our city and its people.”

As of Monday morning, 53 people have been arrested in Boston due to the protests and their aftermath. Nine police officers and 18 bystanders were hospitalized, Walsh added. The National Guard was called into Boston late on Sunday evening as organized protests were ending and crowds turned to destruction and looting. 

Floyd’s death follows dozens of other black men and women murdered by police. Walsh recognized some of those who have died, including Breonna Taylor, 26, Trayvon Martin, 17 and Tamir Rice, 12. He also recognized Ahmaud Arbery, who was murdered by a former police officer and his son in Georgia in February.

“We have to understand that the black community is in real pain,” he said. “Struggling with lifetimes of unequal treatment and putting themselves out there to try and make a change.”

Floyd died after three officers pinned him to the ground. Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes, despite Floyd repeatedly telling the officer he couldn’t breathe and later losing consciousness, and despite the cries and pleas of witnesses. Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder. The other three officers, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, remain under investigation.

District Attorney Rachael Rollins said she was “exhausted.”  She said that police officers across the country have “shot us in the street as if we were animals.”

“People are disgusted and outraged, and they should be,” she said. “And it is completely ironic to have to say to you, ‘Please don’t be violent. Please keep your voice down. Please be silent and comply with all of the police’s requirements,’ when in fact it’s those very people who murder us with impunity. But that’s where we are right now.”

Rollins called attention to two black men: CNN reporter Omar Jimenez, who was arrested on air while covering the Minneapolis protests, and Christian Cooper, who was birdwatching in New York recently when a white woman called the police on him. People are “fed up,  she said.

“And to the white community that is now waking up to see this rage, we have been telling you this forever,” she said. “We have been saying this since Colin Kaepernick took a knee, we have been saying this for decades. And you didn’t listen to us. You didn’t care until you saw a video.”

As the weekend’s protests escalated, certain demonstrators “disgraced George Floyd’s memory” by looting, burning police cars and throwing objects and debris, said Rollins. She said that behavior was unacceptable, and that people will be prosecuted and held accountable.

“But I will also say that buildings can be fixed,” she added. “And I am happy that those officers I hope will make it out of it, as will the civilians. There are lives that were stolen and people that were lynched and murdered and they are never coming back.”

Walsh also criticized those that resorted to violence. He also noted that memorials were defaced, police officers were hit with sticks, bottles and fireworks, and stores were “smashed up and robbed.” He said the night’s escalation frightened certain peaceful protestors, as well as the families of police officers and first responders.

“This was the very last thing that our city quite honestly needed,” he said. He noted that Boston is still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and first responders and protesters risk their lives with every interaction.

He urged people to continue focusing on George Floyd’s murder, but said, “The actions of some last night hurt that cause and hurt a community that is already hurting more than anyone should ever have to bear.”

He added, “We can’t allow violence to take away our focus. I want the black community to know I hear your message and I will continue to be your ally.”

William G. Gross, Boston’s first black police commissioner, also advocated for peace.

“Voices have to be heard and black lives do matter,” he said. “Those voices, speaking out against murderous acts that were committed in Minneapolis, have to be heard and move us along to where we can better serve the community together.”

He noted that most protestors were peaceful and some of those arrested weren’t even from Boston. Out of the 53 people arrested, he said, 24 people are from outside of Boston and two are from outside the state.

Nevertheless, he said others came “hellbent” on destroying the city. Being disruptive does not “pay homage” to Floyd’s death, he added.

Walsh urged Boston to stand united.

“We will stand with the injured officers and their families, we will be there for the damaged stores just as we have been there for small businesses throughout this entire crisis,” he said. “And we will stand with our black community as a city where black lives are valued and where positive change is always our goal and our guiding light.”

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