Eleven people face charges in connection with a Friday night demonstration that drew hundreds of protesters to the South End to denounce the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis after a white officer knelt on his neck.
Following a peaceful rally and march, protesters clashed with officers outside a precinct station on Harrison Avenue, and police released pepper spray. Four Boston police officers were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, Boston Police Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a department spokesman, said Saturday.
In a statement, Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, whose office would handle the prosecution of demonstrators, said “people are justifiably fed up and outraged by the most recent group of horrific murders of Black people by Police” and that she supports the public’s right to protest.
“To be clear, however, acts of violence against our community and our members of law enforcement will not be tolerated and will be arraigned and prosecuted when there is supporting evidence to do so," she said.
Online videos showed police and demonstrators clashing outside the District D-4 station, where seven people were arrested and a 29-year-old woman was given a summons to appear in court.
The seven people arrested during the confrontation range in age from 21 to 30, and five live outside of Boston. Two are women. Three others, including a 17-year-old boy, were arrested near District D-2 in Nubian Square, police said.
The arrests were for a range of offenses including assault and battery on a police officer, disorderly conduct, and damage to property.
As demonstrations over Floyd’s killing unfolded, social media users closely tracked the response by Boston police to protesters. Underscoring the tense atmosphere, two of the city’s most prominent Black officials exchanged words on Twitter.
On Friday night, City Councilor Andrea Campbell posted a photo of officers positioned outside B-2 station in Nubian Square and wrote “police should not show up in riot gear” for a demonstration by activists protesting police violence against unarmed civilians.
The officers were wearing face shields, helmets, masks, gloves, and carrying wooden batons.
“The riot gear response is based on generalizations that these peaceful demonstrations, especially by black and brown residents, will dissolve into violence,” Campbell wrote. “Now is the time to be sensitive to the collective trauma being experienced by our residents especially our black residents.”
Boston Police Commissioner William Gross responded on Twitter Saturday morning, writing that officers wore “protective helmets” after “being attacked by objects thrown at them by violent protestors [sic].”
“The Officers were in uniform not riot gear. Four Officers, your constituents, were injured. One hospitalized. [Thank you] for caring," he wrote.
Another demonstration organized by a group of youth is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at Government Center. On Tuesday, the groups Violence in Boston Inc. and Black Lives Matter Boston plan to host a rally and vigil.
Anthony McWhorter, 18, of Hyde Park, was among the demonstrators arrested outside of District 2 station in Nubian Square. He was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, police said.
On Saturday, McWhorter told the Globe police threw him to the ground during the arrest. Officers allege he interfered with police who were trying to arrest another demonstrator accused of vandalizing District 2 station with spray paint.
McWhorter said activists posted bail on his behalf. The demonstrators who were arrested are scheduled to be arraigned on Monday.
“If we got justice, there wouldn’t be violence,” said McWhorter, a student at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. “Every black person I know has a story about a cop that was unnecessarily messing with them.”
Other demonstrators who were arrested declined to comment or couldn’t be reached.
The confrontation between officers and demonstrators during the South End protest on Friday unfolded at about 8 p.m. outside the entrance to District 4 station and spilled over to a lawn on the grounds of Cathedral Apartments.
Boston police officers held wooden batons horizontally and yelled, “Move back!” as news videographers and photographers, and demonstrators with cellphones recorded the scene.
One video posted to Twitter by the user @eorgiewolf_ shows an intense scene outside the entrance of the D-4 station as a Black woman fell to the ground after she was apparently struck by pepper spray.
Another video shot from a different angle shows the woman holding a cellphone over her head as she stood face-to-face with an officer. She then fell back into the arms of a man, according to video filmed by WBZ-TV.
“They’re spraying! They’re spraying,” a demonstrator yelled.
The Twitter video showed the woman collapse onto the pavement with her eyes closed as she panted.
Police reports released Saturday describe how two officers used pepper spray on demonstrators. A third officer reported a protester dumped a liquid on him that caused “severe pain and burning" in his eyes. He believed the liquid was mixed with pepper spray, a police report said.
At a prayer vigil held Saturday afternoon outside City Hall, Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Gross condemned the killing of Floyd and police violence against people of color.
Addressing the city’s Black and brown residents, Walsh said: “I want you to know that I stand with you and I love you and even though I don’t walk in your shoes my heart aches for you. To say that things must change isn’t enough. We must actively work together to build a more just world.”
Neither Walsh nor his police commissioner addressed the confrontations between officers and demonstrators in the South End, although Gross referred indirectly to tensions between protesters and police.
“People will become angry," Gross said. “They will say Black Lives Matter and all lives matter, and it will be pretty tough for them to realize that blue lives matter."
Police departments should perform their with fairness, free of bias, and “for God’s sake, de-escalation,” he said.
Gross denounced the actions of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Chauvin, who was fired Tuesday, is white.
“I won’t even call him an officer,” Gross said.
Three county prosecutors in Massachusetts were among 40 elected prosecutors nationwide to sign a statement distributed by the group Fair and Just Prosecution that condemned Floyd’s murder and police violence. The local prosecutors who signed the statement are Rollins, Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington, and Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan.
The statement calls on the US Department of Justice and prosecutors in Hennepin County to move swiftly “toward holding the perpetrators of this heinous crime accountable.”
“We say loudly and unequivocally: Enough," the statement said. “The murder of Mr. Floyd is only one of many episodes of police brutality and excessive force that have plagued our communities for decades. These violent, sickening and despicable acts threaten the safety of our streets and erode critical bonds of trust in our justice system.
"Every episode of police violence against people of color lays bare the unbroken link between slavery and modern racially-biased policing and demonstrates the moral imperative for all law enforcement leaders and every member of our justice system to do better.”
Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, who lives near the site of the clash in the rectory of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, issued a statement Saturday that said Floyd’s killing was morally wrong and must be prosecuted.
“The history is clear and tragic: George Floyd was an African American man who died at the hands of a police officer,” O’Malley wrote.
O’Malley, who urged demonstrators to protest peacefully, reflected on Floyd’s death as an example of the existential threat Black people confront daily in America.
“The wider community is aware of some cases, but the African American community lives with the experience and memories of these deaths in an entirely different way. It is a daily reality — one they must speak to their children about and live themselves with some fear,” O’Malley said.
Amanda Kaufman of the Globe staff and correspondent Lucas Phillips contributed.