Some 1,000 people marched through the South End and Roxbury Friday, May 29. Black Bostonians and a multiracial crowd of allies came out in solidarity with the Minneapolis rebellion in the largest protest in the city since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
Below, we collect two on-the-ground reports from participants. If you have a report of your own, from any protest in the Boston area, please consider submitting it to Red Flag Boston.
The Boston Revolutionary Socialists stand with the wave of uprisings and protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Tens of thousands of people are in the streets. Pent up anger over years of state-sanctioned murders, enforced poverty, and brutal white supremacy is roaring out like a forest fire. Police violence is but the driest kindling of a system that has let people suffer for too long.
Now is the time to deepen the sporadic links between street rebels and organized workers, between the arrested and those refusing to cart them away, and to bring the maximum possible weight of our class power to bear in the fight for Black liberation.
Evan (March Participant)
When the protest began, we all gathered in Peters Park in the South End and took a knee while a song on a PA system chanted the names of Black and Brown people killed by police brutality. We then listened to a few different speakers: organizers from Mass Action Against Police Brutality, Hope Coleman (mother of Terrence Coleman, a black man who was shot dead by police in front of his home in the South End in 2016), an organizer for Socialist Alternative, and others.
After that, a truck led the gathering of over a thousand protesters into the street, where we began our march down Washington Street towards Nubian Square. As we passed by the District D-4 Police Station, chants were directed straight at the officers standing guard in front of their building. Some protesters broke from the march to spray paint ACAB on the brick walls of the police station. A MAAPB organizer was standing in the bed of the truck leading the march, and when he noticed the spray painting, he announced through a megaphone that he doesn’t condone that action, but he can’t control individuals, and that if people decide to take part in that activity, they don’t reflect the organized event. Nevertheless, spray painting ACAB in various buildings continued throughout the march.
The march continued through residential neighborhoods in the South End and Roxbury, where residents stood out on their balconies and stoops and clapped and chanted in solidarity with us. As I looked around me, it was truly impressive the amount of people that had participated in the march, though it was a bit concerning that social distancing was clearly not being practiced.
As we reached Nubian Square, we concluded the march at the District B-2 Police Station, where officers were out in a larger force than the D-4 station. There were officers standing guard on the sidewalk along the entire building, in riot gear, gripping long wooden batons. There also appeared to be officers on the roof of the building, and someone filming our protest from up there. Protesters screamed and chanted in the faces of the police on the ground, as the majority of our crowd filled in the Dudley Square Plaza, the park across from the police station.
Here is where things started to be less organized. The organizers from MAAPB didn’t seem to have a solid plan for what to do at this point, which I thought should have been the climax, as we had just marched all the way to be face to face with the police department in the most Black and Brown neighborhood of Boston. Peacekeepers tried to coerce us all out of the street and onto the sidewalk across from the police station. It was still unclear what the plan was, as the chants had died down and we had this enormous crowd of people ready for some type of action.
Then one of the organizers of MAAPB ordered us all through a megaphone to back up out of the street and into the park. She got visibly agitated when people didn’t seem to follow her instruction, and she threw out some expletives, as she insisted this is what we had to do in order to prove our message. She said, “my message isn’t to them,” gesturing to the police, “it’s to all of you.” She announced that now the plan was to “turn our backs to the police,” I guess in a way to symbolically shun them.
A few Black women around me with their own megaphone pushed back against her. They said that turning our backs is exactly what the police want us to do, and it’s when they kill us. They yelled that turning our backs is what we’ve been doing for too long, and that we need to confront them face to face. At this point, the MAAPB organizer disappeared into the crowd, or I could not see her anymore. Some people got fed up with the lack of action and left the protest. One counter protester showed up apparently shouting “All Lives Matter,” and he was quickly confronted, outnumbered and drowned out. I don’t believe any physical action took place there. As there was no clear goal from this point on, I decided to leave.
I should also mention that because social distancing wasn’t being practiced or even encouraged (several people bumped into me, touched me, one person even handed me a sign to hold halfway through the march because they had to drop out), I was constantly sanitizing my hands, and didn’t take my mask off once (as the bare minimum protection I could practice). Good thing I brought that hand sanitizer though. Nobody else seemed worried about that.
E. Reed (View from Car Caravan)
Honking in unison is by far one of the most bizarre ways I’ve ever chanted at a protest.
For over an hour, cars had lined up along Shawmut and Washington streets bordering Peters Park, watching the rally. To protect ourselves and others amid the ongoing pandemic, my partner and I decided to avoid the thick of the crowd. But it was still beautiful to be a part of it in any way we could.
Nearly 30 vehicles followed the mass, carrying a beat between car horns. The different “chants” emerged organically. Unfortunately, the caravan got stuck at District 4, the Boston Police precinct in the South End. There, a smaller group of protesters had broken away from the main march. They were swarming and chanting at a line of police blocking the station’s doors.
It’s unclear what the strategy was, driving that focus on the precinct. It certainly created a powder-keg situation. After 45 minutes of waiting, my partner and I edged up our car through the crowd and tried to reconnect with the rest of the march. Just a few minutes later, the cops started clubbing the crowd (about 45 minutes into the video below).
Driving home, a major question stewed in my head: how does one safely organize amid COVID-19 today? The pandemic has taken 100,000 lives, including 20,000 Black lives, in the U.S. in the past two months alone. In every video I watch, I’m overcome both with admiration for the bravery of the Minneapolis rebels, coming out in spite of a deadly virus, and concern for their health.
We need to fight for George Floyd and all those killed by white supremacy. We need to demand immigrants be let out of concentration camps, and for more government checks to get through this pandemic. But how can we balance bringing out the greatest numbers possible and taking this pandemic seriously? Even amid this wave of struggle, COVID is an ever-present threat.
For so long, movements have approached demonstrations as the main way of getting things done. Bring people out to the streets, show the world there’s a problem, and demand the “powers that be” solve it.
Now, the rebellion, the pandemic, and the emerging workplace actions for PPE might force us to rethink long-held assumptions. Instead of pleading for ruling powers to grant us our requests, how might we use our greater power at work (the point of profit) and in our communities to win change? There are no easy answers, except one: our solidarity must continue.