Hundreds of police supporters and protesters faced off at a busy traffic rotary on Centre Street in West Roxbury Wednesday evening, with one side thanking officers and other emergency workers for their service while others denounced police violence and the killings of Black Americans.
A Facebook group for neighborhood residents organized the rally across from Holy Name Parish to support police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and other public servants, emphasizing that it was to be a “peaceful, nonpartisan event.”
“Let’s respect each other while simply thanking those who protect our great neighborhoods,” organizers said.
But the organizers of a counterprotest described the event as highly partisan, saying the “rally was created to amplify the voices of police officers, and in turn silence that of Black victims.”
As many counterprotesters chanted, “Black lives matter!” some in the group supporting police responded, “All lives matter! All lives matter!”
The vocal demonstration drew interest from local residents.
Khury Petersen-Smith, 38, wandered over to find the rallies after seeing news helicopters circling overhead.
“I was really disturbed to see there’s a large rally in support of the police at a time when they are murdering and brutalizing Black people with impunity,” he said.
“After the Ferguson uprising,“ Petersen-Smith said, referring to protests in Missouri over the death of a Black man in 2014. “there was a pro-police rally here in West Roxbury, which I was so disgusted by. And I was so heartened to see a Black Lives Matter rally here a couple of weeks ago.”
Yaritza Dudley, one of the counterprotest’s organizers, said she supports defunding police departments and putting more taxpayer money into mental health services and “community first responders,” who use knowledge of communities to resolve issues nonviolently.
“We’ve seen reforms happen since the beginning of the foundation of the police as an institution,” she said. “The entire institution actually derives from slave catching. You cannot reform a broken system. You can’t build on a foundation that’s already rotten.”
Zahra, 22, who declined to give her last name, walked two hours from her Allston home to demand change. She said it was frustrating to see so much support for police.
“I think we should abolish the police. I think we should get rid of prisons,” she said. “It’s frustrating to see the other side. I know it exists, and I’m here to stand against it.”
A man circled the rotary in a Chevrolet Silverado with a large, hand-painted sign in the back reading, “God bless the USA & police. Shame on spineless politicians & corrupt media.”
Dawn DeBerardinis, 46, of Hyde Park, said she came out to “support the blue” because she has several friends who are police officers, dating back to about 15 years ago, when she worked at Dunkin’ Donuts and they were among her regular customers.
“They’re very polite; not one of them have ever been rude or arrogant,” she said. “Even to this day, if I see them on the streets, they beep and they wave.”
DeBerardinis denounced the movement to defund police departments.
“They’ve got families. They’re out here, they’re doing their job, just like anybody else,” she said, adding later, “I don’t think they just go out there and kill innocent people.”
She pointed to the killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta on Friday.
“You see a guy sleeping in a parking lot that goes to reach for a Taser — what else are the cops going to do? They don’t know what the outcome of it is going to be,” she said. “I just don’t fall for it.”
Jack Miller, 74, of West Roxbury, is a longtime criminal defense attorney and the father of a veteran Boston police officer who has been working long hours in recent weeks in part because of frequent protests.
Miller said the Minneapolis officers responsible for George Floyd’s death last month should be prosecuted, but Boston police shouldn’t be lumped in with the worst members of their profession.
“I hope the blame for the killings goes on the police people who did it, not on all policemen in general,” Miller said. “According to a lot of people, we’ve got a model program here in the city. . . . I’m sure Commissioner Gross would like to know about any cops that are racist or corrupt. I’m sure he’d like to get their names.”
Bob Rice, 61, came from his Dedham home to support both rallies.
“I have a lot of police officers in my family, and every one of them agree with me: You can support the blue, but you can be against racism at the same time,” he said.
Later, looking at the two groups, he said, “This is crazy to have separation like this. There’s no need of it. . . . We have to come together. If we don’t come together, this country’s screwed.”
Milton Valencia of the Globe staff contributed to this story.