Hundreds of youths marched from Nubian Square in Roxbury to City Hall Plaza Wednesday, demanding that the city remove police officers from public schools and reallocate 10 percent of the police budget to community and educational needs.
The march offered a powerful display of the energy and purpose taking shape among young Black and brown activists in Boston following nearly two weeks of daily protests against police brutality and structural racism — and as the City Council debated major changes in the Police Department’s budget.
Wednesday’s event started coming together just days earlier, on a Friday evening conference call among about 20 organizers, some of whom didn’t know one another. All wanted to see a transformation in Boston’s approach to public safety, said Vikiana Petit-Homme, 18, an organizer.
“For the People,” the organizing group, said funds slated for policing should be reallocated to benefit the community, such as for youth jobs, violence prevention, mental health counselors, and social-emotional supports in the schools. It also advocated capping police overtime pay. Community members, not public officials, should decide where to direct those funds, Petit-Homme added.
“We want our communities to be self-reliant and independent from the systems that are hurting them, like the police,” she said.
Over the course of several hours, a crowd of perhaps 500 wound down Washington Street into Downtown Crossing, chanting “Marty, we’re coming!" — a reference to Mayor Martin J. Walsh — and “FTP," an acronym for both the group that organized the march and for a denouncement of police first popularized by the rap group N.W.A.
“These are our streets, defund the police!” they shouted at another point, some waving signs emblazoned with a smashed piggy bank in a police cap. Other signs bore slogans like “Black Lives Matter” and “A better world is possible.” A truck carrying protest leaders played protest anthems, including Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” and YG’s “F--- Donald Trump.”
John Stephens, who was leaving work at Tufts Medical Center, joined the march at the adjacent MBTA station.
“The reasons are obvious," he said. “Something needs to be done to help marginalized people in this country, and I’m joining in with people who are doing that,” he said.
Referring to the death of George Floyd, whose killing by a Minneapolis police officer was captured in a bystander video that sparked protests around the world, he added, "It’s a shame this is what it took.”
Protests around the city, nation, and world in recent days have come even as the coronavirus pandemic continues. That crisis has hit communities of color particularly hard, laying bare gross disparities in health and health care, and called new attention to the systemic racism underlying those disparities.
Protesters have called for an array of changes, but reforming the police has been among their top priorities. In Boston and in cities around the country, politicians are now debating whether and how to “defund” police — or, more precisely, reallocate spending on law enforcement for health, educational, and social service needs.
Walsh has signaled that he may be open to reallocating some of the Police Department’s $414 million budget to community health and social services; he hasn’t said how. But on Wednesday he said that simply cutting the police budget won’t fix the problems activists are trying to solve. His administration will soon announce new spending plans, he said.
The organizers of Wednesday’s march said they plan to hold a virtual town hall next week, and that they’ve invited Walsh and the City Council. At least three councilors — Ricardo Arroyo, Michael Flaherty, and Michelle Wu — have accepted, the organizers said.
The police stayed at the periphery of Wednesday’s march and had little obvious interaction with protesters. As the protest broke up in the early evening, several dozen participants lingered on City Hall Plaza for an impromptu dance party.
Vernal Coleman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @vernalcoleman.