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Thousands rally in Franklin Park to protest deaths of Black people at hands of police

Black Lives Matter Boston and Violence In Boston Inc. stage a ‘die-in’ on Blue Hill Avenue and a rally in Franklin Park

Activists participate in a "die-in" for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the exact time that George Floyd was pinned to the ground, at Blue Hill Avenue and Franklin Park Road.
Activists participate in a "die-in" for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the exact time that George Floyd was pinned to the ground, at Blue Hill Avenue and Franklin Park Road.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Thousands of demonstrators rallied peacefully Tuesday in Boston’s Franklin Park in response to the recent deaths of Black people across the country at the hands of police.

The protest began Tuesday afternoon with a “die-in” at Franklin Park Road and Blue Hill Avenue, with people lying in the street or kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the same amount of time that George Floyd, the Minneapolis man who was killed by police, was pinned on the ground by a police officer before his death.

Protesters stage a die in to protest the death of George Floyd
Protesters staged a die in at Franklin Park to protest the death of George Floyd. (Shelby Lum|Globe Staff)

The demonstrators, protected from cars by marshals in yellow vests, chanted, “Black Lives Matter!” and “No Justice No Peace!" They then stood up and began marching through the park to rally at a large open area outside the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital.

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Later, as the large crowd dispersed and darkness began to fall, came some tense moments for a city on edge.

Just after the two-hour march and rally ended, angry protesters appeared to stop a police vehicle that was attempting to move through the crowd and force it to retreat. Emotions also ran high in faceoffs between protesters and police at the MBTA’s Forest Hills Station, a police facility on Warren Street, and Boston police headquarters.

Shortly after 9 p.m., a large group of several hundred mostly young protesters made its way down Boylston Street into downtown Boston, which was wracked Sunday night after peaceful protests turned into violence and vandalism. The group ended up on the steps and sidewalk in front of the State House.

As they made their way toward the State House, a woman at the front of the crowd yelled that there would be no violence tonight. Protesters chanted, “No justice, no peace!” and “George Floyd!” and “Change the system!”

With a fence separating them from a row of police, the crowd took a knee and held an extended moment of silence for Floyd.

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Someone on the steps addressed the crowd, stating, “There will be no looting tonight.” The crowd chanted, “Peaceful protest!”

Around 10:40 p.m., tensions ratcheted up again when a convoy of police vehicles came up Beacon Street toward the State House, where they were met by protesters. The cars then backed up down the hill.

Organizer Monica Cannon-Grant urged the crowd before the rally in Franklin Park to protest peacefully, noting the looting and violence that happened late Sunday in downtown Boston after a peaceful day of protest.

“I want to be real clear about today. I’ve seen y’all with your spray paint and your fireworks,” said Cannon-Grant, the founder of the group Violence in Boston. “This is our community. You will not come here and break up and tear up black-owned businesses.”

The crowd cheered in agreement.

“Don’t bring that here. If we catch you, it will be a problem,” she said.

Jakhi Dean, 20, marched alongside his father. Both wore black masks with “I can’t breathe,” the words that George Floyd said before he died, written on them.

Dean said he hadn’t been to the protest downtown Sunday, partly because his mother didn’t trust it as much as the one on Tuesday, which is based in his neighborhood.

“Being here makes it much more impactful for me,” said Dean, a student at University of Massachusetts Amherst, at marching in Dorchester. “These are people who look like me. I’m used to these streets. I’ve lived here my whole life.”

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Protesters filled Circuit Drive in the park as they marched, trapping some cars. Geovaunie Morgan, 29, had dropped his sisters off to march and was now stuck. His 3-year-old nephew poked his head out of the sunroof, watching the crowd stream by. A protester had handed him a bouquet of yellow flowers and he plucked the petals off one by one, raining them down on his uncle and the street.

“You thought this way for a long time. And now it’s like you’re not the only one who thought this way,” said Morgan, who is Black.

“I’m not crazy for feeling this way,” he said.

Dominique Roseau of Taunton, said that as the mother of a 15-year-old Black son — who was too nervous to attend the rally — she came to the protest to represent all of those who have fallen at the hands of police. She wants police reforms.

Officials need to "understand the struggle that black parents and black people as a whole experience daily,” said Roseau, 36.

“We came out because it’s finally clear that all people care — like, white people care,” said Margaret Kiwanuka. “For me as a black person to see this many people come out, I feel like they are listening. And that’s hope.”

“This means we can do it. We can do this. We can do this. We need equity and justice for all. For all people in the United States," she said.

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Kiwanuka came with her husband and daughter, Kalala, 20, who said it was amazing to see "all the white people out."

“I feel like it’s going to really take the white people to actually be here,” she said. “For way too long racism has seemed like a thing that’s a Black people issue, but it’s not. It affects every single person. White people need to acknowledge their privilege and finally get involved. We won’t be able to move forward as a society and do great things without everyone coming together.”

“I think I just felt like enough was enough,” said Vivian Kargbo of Boston, on what prompted her to attend. “I’m raising a 13-year-old daughter, and my greatest fear is having her relive these dark emotions that I’m overcome with in a regular basis when I see a Black person killed with no justice.”

She was encouraged, she said, by the sizeable turnout.

“When I see the people — all different ages, different nationalities — when I see everyone come together for the purpose of embracing this purpose? It reinforces the idea that there’s more good than bad," she said.

Lula Mae Christopher of Boston came to the protest to celebrate the marchers, and protect them. One of a trio of women dressed all in white, she burned incense and chanted as they passed before shuffling towards a squad of arriving police.

With a staff and maraca, she attempted to create a “sacred circle” around the police, a ritual that traces back to the spiritual traditions of the Western Dagra Tribe of Burkina-Faso.

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“The intent is to let them know, and let their ancestors know, that they can do no harm here,” she said.

People carried a variety of signs, with messages that included “Hands up Don’t Shoot,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Not One More.” A protester’s wheelchair sported a sign saying, “400 Years. 400 More? Or Will You Stand Up.”

One person held up a sign that said “mask and hand sanitizer,” indicating he was passing the items out to help demonstrators avoid the threat of the deadly coronavirus.

TV news helicopters thrummed overhead. Their footage showed a large crowd covering the area near the hospital, many of them slightly spaced out in an apparent effort to maintain a safe distance to stop the spread of the virus. Shortly before 7 p.m. the crowd appeared to be breaking up.

As the rally ended, police cars rolled down Circuit Drive behind where the protest had just taken place, with their sirens wailing. The sirens appeared to provoke panic in the previously peaceful crowd.

Police vehicles appeared to attempt to pass through the exiting crowd, and protesters blocked the way. It was not clear what had touched off the police response or caused the police to turn on their sirens.

Bicycle officers attempted to push back demonstrators with their bicycles, and chants began to echo: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, these racist cops have got to go.”

An organizer from Violence in Boston worked to de-escalate the situation. “Guys, we need to get the police out of here,” he said, clearing the path so the police could back their cars out. Some protesters shouted obscenities.

“I wanna go home and I wanna make sure my black friends are [expletive deleted] safe,” one young woman yelled. A police officer responded that they were there to make sure everyone stayed safe and things stayed peaceful.

Eventually, police made their way out of the commotion.

Bicycle officers walked their bikes down the middle of Circuit Drive, as protesters watched them and shouted at them. “Quit your job!” they chanted. One man shouted, “Bye bye! Exit stage left!” The crowds kneeled at one point as the police walked by.

When the police left the street, some protesters followed behind them, cheering and singing, “Na na na na na na na na hey hey hey goodbye.”

Protesters streaming away from the rally also stood face-to-face with a line of police officers at a police facility on Warren Street.

At Forest Hills Station, a large crowd surrounded officers who were standing near the entrance at the top of the station. Protesters took to one knee and chanted, “Take a knee,” trying to get police to kneel with them. Police appeared to remain standing, some holding wooden sticks and others in heavier gear with black vests and shields.

People began chanting the names of Black victims who have died at the hands of police, and followed police as they walked closer to the opening of the station.

After being surrounded for more than an hour, a group of the officers eventually left the area, leaving behind just a handful of police in heavier gear holding shields and wearing black vests and helmets. As the crowd formed around them — the police with their backs against the glass windows of the station — protesters started chanting, “Take a knee! Take a knee!”

In a moment of solidarity, at least several of the officers knelt on the ground, resting their hands on top of their shields for a few moments. The crowd erupted with cheers, and some demonstrators yelled, “Thank you!” while others exchanged handshakes with the police.

Protesters streaming away from the protest also stood face-to-face with a line of police officers at a police facility on Warren Street.

Protesters also gathered and chanted in front of the Boston Police Department headquarters, where, at one point, former city councilor Tito Jackson stepped in to try to reduce tensions.

Jackson told NBC10 that the violence in Boston Sunday night didn’t allow “you to hear our message.”

“Black lives matter,” he said, and “we’re going to comport ourselves in a way that you, the press, and you, the media, can hear our message.”

“People can’t be choked and killed in the US and get the protection of being a police officer,” he said. “We need to be vigilant. We need to make sure we make permanent change to actual policy.”

Police officers kneeled in front of headquarters, too, de-escalating the situation. The department tweeted a picture of the moment, saying, “A deep meaning and emotional gesture outside #BPD Headquarters earlier tonight underscoring and speaking to the humanity of our officers and their undeniable desire to act in solidarity with our community.”

At 7:29 p.m., Boston police tweeted, “The peaceful protest at Franklin Park has come to a conclusion. As participants vacate the area, we respectfully remind individuals to remain committed to peace. Our officers are there to keep people safe. The intention is not to invite, incite or provoke violence.”

The department tweeted at 7:51 p.m., “Like the large majority of today’s protestors, the men and women of the Boston Police Department are also praying for peace. As protestors continue to march through the streets of our city, we remind everyone to remain respectful, responsible and committed to safety in our city.”

At 9:31 p.m., the department tweeted, “There is no questioning the motives or the resolve of the men and women of the #BPD. Every officer working tonight is praying for peace and asking those marching in our streets to work with us in our efforts to keep everybody safe.”

Meanwhile, in Brockton, police, State Police and National Guard troops faced off with protesters at the city’s police station. At more than one point, fireworks were thrown toward the police line and exploded. Police could also be seen using spray to disperse the crowd.

Floyd’s death, which led to the firing of four police officers and the arrest of one, has sparked outrage across the country in recent weeks, leading to protests that, in some cases, eventually devolved into chaos in cities including Boston.

In an interview with the Globe on Tuesday ahead of the event, Cannon-Grant of Violence In Boston said the rally “is organized by a Black-led organization for Black people.”

Cannon-Grant said people are angry, frustrated, and some need a way to express their emotions in the wake of Floyd’s death, feelings that are distinctive to Black Americans at this particular moment in history.

“We need to hold space for those who have been killed at the hands of the police department," she said. “I am welcoming those who are not Black people to be with us and to stand in solidarity and to support us as we protest and grieve and hold space …This is a civil rights movement."

Cannon-Grant said she outlined her plans for Tuesday night to Boston Police Commissioner William Gross earlier this week, but has not otherwise been in contact with the department. “I don’t have a relationship with the Boston police,” she said, adding that organizers will have their own security and legal observers on site as well as spaces where people can just grieve.

On Monday, demonstrations were held in Boston, first in West Roxbury and later in Grove Hall, each of which was peaceful.

On Sunday, a peaceful protest started in Nubian Square before winding through the city’s streets and ending on the steps of the State House. After nightfall, the protest turned violent, however, as people skirmished with police and vandalized and looted businesses in Downtown Crossing and Back Bay. Nine police officers were injured, 21 cruisers were damaged, and 54 people were arrested.

City Council President Kim Janey said that the city council and the mayor will be discussing how to keep future protests safe.

“We have to make sure that we have a good plan,” she said.

“We do need to make sure that there’s a plan in place that any police officers that may be present, that they’re set up in such a way that certainly they are safe, but that the protesters are safe as well.”

Dasia Moore of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear. Vernal Coleman can be reached at vernal.coleman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @vernalcoleman. Zoe Greenberg can be reached at zoe.greenberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @zoegberg. Dugan Arnett can be reached at dugan.arnett@globe.com. John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Martin finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.