Amid dozens of protests throughout Massachusetts on Sunday, Boston clergy held a moving afternoon memorial service for Black lives killed by a culture of racism, while later in the day thousands marched through the streets in the heart of the city, demanding changes to police and systemic inequalities.
Late Sunday afternoon, thousands gathered on Boston City Hall Plaza for a protest against police brutality in an event called “Unite against racist police terror!” before marching to Ruggles MBTA station, where they arrived soon after 6 p.m. Around the corner on State Street, dozens of Boston and military police lined the streets, carrying batons and driving large tan military trucks.
Joe Tache, a member of the Answer Coalition, said the demonstrators were there to call on officials to reopen investigations into police killings and to jail killer cops. They also called for the state to defund police organizations, fully fund social services, and demilitarize Black communities and schools. Organizers said they want the National Guard to leave the city immediately.
“It’s a new era of people standing up,” he said. “Things aren’t going back to the way they were before.”
Nino Brown of the Party For Socialism and Liberation, one of the event’s organizers, rallied the crowd with a call and response.
“It’s our duty to fight for our freedom,” he said. “It’s our duty to win. We must love and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Another speaker, Rachel Domond, condemned the readiness of the state to shut down protests, adding that three months into the COVID-19 public health crisis, “we’re still waiting for an adequate public health response.”
She talked about the budgets allotted to schools, art programs, and health services, compared to the large funds provided to police.
A man who called himself JD told the crowd he had witnessed the killing of Tony McDade, a Black transgender man, by police in Tallahassee, Fla. His voice echoed across the plaza as he spoke about the death and how police lied about their reasons for the killing.
“They’re not here to protect us, but to prey on us,” he told the crowd.
Hope Coleman, the mother of Terrence Coleman, a Black man who was fatally shot by police in the South End in 2016, took the microphone just as drops of rain began to fall. Her voice broke as she described her son’s killing.
Her son suffered from paranoia, she said. Five of her grandchildren where there when he was shot.
“It’s time for change,” she called out. “It’s time to treat disabilities, people. Respect!”
The crowd cheered in response. Undeterred by the rain, the protesters began to march down Tremont Street at about 5 p.m.
“Hey, hey, ho, ho, these racist cops have got to go!” they chanted, filling the street. They passed lines of police near a spot where a police cruiser was set on fire the previous Sunday, when a peaceful march from Roxbury’s Nubian Square to the steps of the State House was followed by looting and violence downtown and in the Back Bay.
Soldiers from the National Guard were sent to Boston during the destruction the night of May 31. Since then, downtown and the Back Bay have had a heavy police and military presence.
Earlier Sunday afternoon in Jamaica Plain, a funeral procession of cars left Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church one after the other, with their lights flashing and names of Black Americans written on the windows: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.
Taylor and Floyd were killed by police earlier this year and Arbery by two men while he was jogging.
Now, Arbery, Floyd, and Taylor are among those whose lives are being celebrated for helping power a movement.
The funeral procession proceeded onto American Legion Highway, Blue Hill Avenue, Warren and Washington streets, Massachusetts Avenue, Tremont and Stuart streets before heading back to the Jamaica Plain church.
There, a memorial service was held by faith-based coalition Clergy United. The event, which had a 30-person cap and was streamed on TV and online, was meant to “allow Boston to participate in the national observance of Black people who were murdered by police and lost their lives to white supremacy culture,” according to organizers.
“We prayed for change,” said Bishop John M. Borders III of Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan. “But now we are challenged to be the answer to our own prayers.”
Before the service started, Bridgit Brown, a lay leader at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Dorchester, vowed that the battle would go on.
“We are going to continue to wage a fight for justice on behalf of them, until the fight is won,” she said. "People are frustrated, and want to release their grievances and want that to be recognized and to be seen as legitimate.”
Simone Marie Dear, of Dedham, came for the procession and said she wanted her 5-year-old daughter Nina Simone, named after the legendary singer and activist, to learn to stand up and speak out for herself.
“It has been 400 years of this,” Dear said. “On this day, I’m going to show her that this is what we do. We speak up.”
The procession and service was among the multitude of demonstrations in Massachusetts, as marchers took to the streets throughout the region to protest police brutality and structural racism.
In Chelsea, about 500 people showed up at a rally where the city’s police chief, Brian Kyes, took a knee during a moment of silence for Floyd, a 46-year-old handcuffed Black man, who died on Memorial Day when a white Minneapolis police officer pinned his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Taking a knee has become a symbol of protest against police brutality throughout the country.
“It was the right thing to do . . . it was a no-brainer for me,” Kyes said in a phone interview, calling the gesture a way to show solidarity.
Officer Jonathan Maldonado, husband of City Councilor Melinda Vega Maldonado, who also attended the rally, said he thought back to times when his father would be a “nervous wreck” when he was pulled over by police.
"So many years of him doing it, it’s a norm for him,” Maldonado said in a phone interview. “I want to change that.”
And he said he does not want his own children to grow up feeling that fear.
City Councilor Damali Vidot of Chelsea, who supported the event’s organizers, said advocates wanted city authorities to consider creating a diversity and inclusion department. Chelsea is a majority-minority city, but that diversity is not reflected in departments like the school district, she said.
Vidot said the city’s Police Department has “come a long way” in terms of accountability, but there is always “room for improvement.”
The police at Sunday’s event were friendly, she said, and she described the demonstration as peaceful and inspiring.
“We all need to rethink how we show up in the world,” said Vidot.
A peaceful two-hour rally of about 250 people was held in front of Lawrence’s City Hall on Sunday, according to police.
Detective Thomas Cuddy, a Police Department spokesman, said police Chief Roy Vasque and Mayor Dan Rivera spoke at the event.
“We’re thankful that everyone had their rally and [their] say and that it was nondestructive,” said Cuddy.
In Boston Sunday evening, the crowd from the protest march started to disperse at 7 p.m. near Ruggles Station after a parting address from Tache.
“This isn’t the end of our fight,” he said. “This is the beginning of our movement.”
Danny McDonald can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald. Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 617-929-2043. Lucas Phillips can be reached at email@example.com.