fb-pixel

In the aftermath of riots and arrests, Brocktonians remain proud of their city

A cyclist passed broken windows at Brockton Furniture on Centre Street on Wednesday.
A cyclist passed broken windows at Brockton Furniture on Centre Street on Wednesday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

BROCKTON — When Luke Janvier heard that other young people in Brockton were planning a peace rally to stand together against racism, he felt a surge of pride in his city — a community he said always shows up for one another.

Volunteers and demonstrators began to fill the parking lot of West Middle School more than an hour before the scheduled 5 pm kick-off Tuesday. Community leaders and ordinary residents stood together as young activists spoke about the death of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the lived experiences of Brockton’s large Black community.

“It was very peaceful throughout the whole thing. It was love. The community came together,” said Janvier, a 21-year-old Haitian-American musician who performs under the stage name Luke Bars.

Advertisement



This was the Brockton that many who live here know: a diverse city fighting for progress even as it grapples with rapidly shifting demographics, one of the state’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks, and the weight of poverty and racial inequality.

But just hours after the peaceful demonstration that filled Janvier with hope and pride, the street outside his house was illuminated by fireworks arcing toward police. Bottles and rocks flew toward the officers, too — even a can of corn.

State Police and the National Guard joined the Brockton police at the scene, and the air filled with pepper spray and tear gas pellets as officers fired back. By the end of the night, about 25 people would be arrested. The next morning a smashed and charred Dunkin’ Donuts stood as a grim reminder.

Janvier watched the chaos unfold. But even in the protesters’ anger, he saw echoes of the moving speeches his neighbors had given earlier that day.

“I think all the looting and all the anger and all the expression that went on was just built up aggression from years and years,” he said Wednesday. “In every scenario, just being a Black man, a Black woman in this country, everything you have to deal with … we’re getting sick and tired of it.”

Advertisement



The 25 miles that separate Brockton from the glistening center of downtown Boston can feel vast. The city’s nearly 100,000 residents are largely poor and working class, including many immigrant families. Black people make up 40 percent of the entire population, 10 percent are Hispanic, and 33 percent are foreign born, according to the US Census.

Despite its diverse population, the city’s leadership remains mostly white.

People of color are 64 percent of Brockton’s population yet hold only 8 percent of the elected seats, according to the organization MassINC.

In the last election, two women of color won at-large seats on the 11-seat City Council. Tina Cardoso is of Cape Verdean descent. She is a nurse and president of a domestic violence prevention group.

Rita Mendes, 36, was sworn into office in January. She had never run for office before.

"I do feel that in general people felt very proud because they know we're relatable. I can speak Portuguese and Spanish and I can understand Haitian and Cape Verdean pretty good," she said.

"They could see we've shared the same stories, we've shared the same struggles and I think it gives them hope, hope to be more active, hope to go out there and vote, hope to make sure their voices are heard."

Advertisement



“That’s my goal really, opening the door,” Mendes said.

Born and raised in the city, Jeffrey Thompson, 43, who is white, also just won a seat on the City Council in the last election cycle.

He said the city is undergoing a fundamental change. A portion of it is driven by demographics, he said. "In the last 10 years, we’ve become a minority-majority community."

Within the last decade, Thompson said, the City Council has seen a handful of Black members.

“The leadership of our city is starting to better represent the community at large, we are on that path, we have been on that path, and I expect to continue on that path,” Thompson said.

The Brockton Police Department’s makeup comes somewhat closer to reflecting the city. Of its 145 officers, 79 are white, 51 are Black, and11 are Hispanic or Latino, according to data provided by the city.

But the department’s leadership is largely white: All six of the department’s captains are white, as are 13 lieutenants and 20 sergeants. Compare that to three Black sergeants, one Hispanic sergeant, and one Hispanic lieutenant.

Against this background of unequal representation and economic struggle came the COVID-19 pandemic.

In line with data that shows Black communities are getting especially hard hit by the coronavirus, Brockton has recorded the second-highest infection rate in the state, after Chelsea. Those infections have led to 239 COVID-19 deaths.

“What we’re dealing with are systems that are unjust,” said Brockton pastor Emmanuel Daphnis. “Why is it that here in Brockton, we’re the city with the second-highest COVID infection rate? Why is it that health disparities are so prevalent in our society and our city?”

Advertisement



Disparities have not gone unnoticed by the city’s young people.

Deja McCottrell, a 22-year-old, said she co-organized Tuesday’s peace rally because the message of protests sweeping the country resonated with her.

“It’s a conversation that needs to be had, so I wanted to keep having it,” she said. “I was just really proud of what it turned into. … It was moving and it was definitely a humbling experience.”

She said she doesn’t know how things turned so quickly, nor does she agree with violence, but she does understand what animated some protesters to aggressive action.

“People got to the point where they’re fed up with talking,” McCottrell said.

The city’s mayor decried the property damage as counterproductive in the battle against racial oppression.

“This doesn’t help the cause for positive systemic changes,” Mayor Robert F. Sullivan said Wednesday morning. "And it doesn’t help our local businesses.”

Daphnis, who is pastor of Restoration Community Church, a multi-ethnic church where he said a majority of congregants are part of the African diaspora, agreed that violence was “counterproductive.”

But Daphnis also said the chaos did not reflect what he saw of his city on Tuesday, or in the course of his years as a faith leader in the community.

“There was some unrest, absolutely. But even then, what we saw in Brockton was not crazy, rampant looting. What we saw was young people who simply kept expressing the desire for justice.”

Advertisement



Many in their community joined them.

Another pastor, Steve Warner of Brockton Assembly of God, welcomed demonstrators who wanted to continue sharing their stories and prayers after the official peace rally had ended.

Ahead of the rally, the church had changed its message board to read, “Racism is sin. Period.”

Warner, who is white, said that while national events had led to the rally, he felt it was important for Brockton residents and leaders to examine their own hearts, actions, and systems.

“From my standpoint, I’m going to tell you as a Christian clergyman, I believe the first place we always have to start is on our knees before God asking if we have contributed to the problem.”

For his part, Janvier vows to keep representing Brockton as he knows it: persevering and full of passion and creativity.

“Brockton’s really one of the most talented cities that I’ve ever seen,” he said, referring to the range of artists, scholars, and athletes the city has nurtured. “We don’t have all the resources in my opinion to really express that, but still so talented.”

“I’m proud of my generation for fighting for that.”

Hiawatha Bray and Emily Sweeney of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com or 617-929-1579. Follow her on Twitter @talanez. Dasia Moore can be reached at dasia.moore@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @daijmoore