As a group of local political leaders of color — including Representative Ayanna Pressley and Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins — converged on the steps of the Massachusetts State House on Tuesday to call for increasing police accountability to advance racial justice, Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo broke down in tears as he shared an encounter he once had with police.
Arroyo said that when he was a teenager, he got lost on his way back from visiting Providence around midnight one night.
“I took a wrong turn,” Arroyo said. “I was in a little plaza — I don’t even know where I was. It was about midnight-ish, and nobody was there. . . And so I took a u-turn, and I see the lights go on immediately.”
Arroyo said his “heart dropped pretty much instantly.”
“I didn’t know why there were lights on me, and I knew I was alone on a dark street. So I knew the drill. I turned the lights on, I put my hands on the steering wheel, put the windows down — make it very clear there is not a threat, there is no reason to be afraid of me.”
Arroyo said that when the state trooper reached his window, “he said, ‘Are you stupid?’”
After a bit of back and forth, Arroyo said the officer then instructed him to get out of the car.
“I did,” Arroyo said, choking up. "He pulled his gun out, and pointed it at me, and he asked me again if I was stupid.
“In that moment, time stopped for me,” Arroyo continued. "I thought about my parents, my father, the things I had not told people, about the people I wanted to see again. I thought about things I wanted for myself. Things I wanted to see for myself.
“I looked at him and said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘I’m going to give you a verbal because you’re stupid.’ He let me drive home. And I don’t have a scar on me. I don’t have a bruise. But I have wounds that I’ll never lose.”
Arroyo said that many people of color have gone through similar indignities, and could recount a time “in which they were made to feel unsafe or not human” or a story where they felt “disrespected by law enforcement.”
“So you can imagine how it feels to understand the trauma and the anger that you see that are being displayed to you on a daily basis in this country and this city. Because unless you’ve ever felt truly powerless, unless you’ve ever felt like your life is forfeit, like you are not in control of it, like it can be taken from you, then nothing will happen,” Arroyo said.
In his remarks, Arroyo also described having “colleagues who are well-intentioned, who want to help, but whose policies and whose work to this point have left you alone.”
“To them I say this: You will not have peace, true peace, until you have policy on the floor,” Arroyo said. “You do not just get to say ‘I hear you, I see you’ and go about your day. You are likely experiencing, as we all are, a lack of ease and a real introspection on how you can be helpful.”
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh issued a statement during Sunday’s protests expressing support for demonstrators, telling them, “I see you. I hear you. I will use my voice for you.”
As for how to be helpful, Arroyo suggested: “Raise up your colleagues. Lift them up when they’re stripped of chairmanships, when they’re stripped of having bills on the floor, when resolutions about the value of our lives, when resolutions about police brutality can’t go up for a vote — where is your voice? Use it.”