Demonstrators gathered by the hundreds in Boston and by the thousands in Providence on Friday, peacefully demanding justice for Black Americans killed by police on the day that Breonna Taylor, a Louisville, Ky., EMT killed in March by police executing a “no-knock” warrant, would have turned 27.
Taylor was the focus of an early evening rally in Roxbury’s Nubian Square that drew more than 500 people of all skin colors, many carrying signs that said simply, “Breonna Taylor,” or, “Say her name.”
In Providence, more than 10,000 people marched in the streets of downtown and filled the lawn of the State House in a massive rally to protest the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.
The rally was more than double the size of the Black Lives Matter rally held on Saturday. This one was led by students at Providence’s Central High School and Veterans Memorial High School in Warwick, drawing a crowd that was largely young and diverse, with an energy and passion that filled the streets.
They marched past buildings that had been boarded up after riots by agitators late Monday night. Some of those boarded windows had been painted over with murals honoring Black Lives Matter and Black people who suffered from police brutality.
For hours, the protest had been peaceful and organized. But as the night wore on, tension mounted.
Providence officials had imposed a 9 p.m. curfew, and shortly after 8 p.m. police started telling the crowd assembled on the State House steps to go home.
Several hundred remained at the State House past the 9 p.m. curfew, booing as the state police told them to leave and troopers and National Guard lined the steps wearing riot gear.
They remained in place, holding a moment of silence for several minutes, the amount of time it took Floyd to die.
Then, Governor Gina M. Raimondo appeared with her husband, Andy Moffitt, and National Guard Adjutant General Christopher Callahan and said she wanted to work for justice and pray with them. “Keep it peaceful tonight. We have work to do tomorrow,” she told them, while they heckled her.
One yelled: Are you going to stay when they start shooting us? And the governor responded, “Yes, and no one’s going to shoot you.”
Boston’s protest in Nubian Square, the historic heart of the city’s Black population, also drew a large number of young protesters, some of whom said they worry about the impact of violence on women.
“It’s not necessarily just Black men that are coming under fire, and under scrutiny, and who are being abused and murdered by police officers, or just any system in general that has been oppressive toward Black bodies,” said Nate McLean-Nichols, 22.
“I wanted to be able to show my support and stand in solidarity with Black women and showcase that it isn’t just ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but all Black lives matter,” said McLean-Nichols, who grew up in Grove Hall and is a program coordinator for the Center for Teen Empowerment, a cosponsor of the rally.
The rally’s lead organizer was 24-year-old Keturah Brewster, interim executive director of the youth-led organization, I Have a Future. Brewster gave an impassioned speech about the weight of this historical moment.
“These last few weeks have erupted our collective responsibility and awareness against a moral crisis in this country. Like many of you, when the call of action came, I left my home, I rallied my family and friends, and took to the streets in the memory of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, and the thousands of Black people executed by the hands of police brutality.”
The crowd was racially mixed, with at least as many white participants as Black demonstrators, as well as many Asian-American and Latinx protesters, and members of the LGBTQ community. Most were in their teens or 20s, but middle-aged and older residents were represented, as well.
Toussaint Liberator, 40, a singer who has gone by his stage name for 20 years, moved through the crowd with a small bundle of smoking sage.
“Sage is a cleansing herb, and it’s used to ward away evil spirits,” he explained. “I wanted to walk through the crowd tonight and just bless the crowd with the sage because it’s an ancient ritual, it’s an African ritual. I believe the people that are here have the intention of being peaceful, but I’m just trying to add my extra blessing so that our message can be heard.”
Jazelynn Goudy, 30, is an artist and a Milwaukee native who moved to Roxbury last August.
Goudy said Boston has been less welcoming than the Midwestern city, but she has been inspired by the city’s arts scene and its activism — among the Black community, she said, but also among white Bostonians committed to racial justice.
But white people need to do more, Goudy said.
“They sit in their privilege,” she said. “Until you realize giving up your power and helping those who are the most oppressed — skin color-wise, racial-wise, sexual orientation-wise — you’re not going to move forward. Until you are able to take constructive criticism and actually do the work, like actual, physical work of internalizing undoing racism, you’re not going to move forward. You’re just going to keep doing this ‘white savior’ [expletive].”
Across the region, many were speaking out on issues of race and pledging to do better.
In Hyde Park, leaders of Metco, the voluntary school desegregation program, gathered with superintendents from suburban school systems that participate in the program to announce the agency’s re-commitment to desegregating Boston’s suburban schools.
“We’ve become complacent,” Milly Arbaje-Thomas, Metco’s chief executive, said at the event. “We can’t just say that we do full integration. We need to do full integration."
Dan McGowan and Edward Fitzpatrick of the Globe staff contributed to this report.