Hundreds of people protested systemic racism in Boston Monday afternoon, marching from Roxbury to the steps of the State House and issuing calls to cut police funding and reallocate the money to social service programs in the wake of recent killings of Black people by officers in Minneapolis, Louisville, and elsewhere.
Just prior to the march, activist Monica Cannon-Grant, one of the organizers of the demonstration, criticized what she said was Governor Charlie Baker’s “decision to continue to fund” police and “provide them bonuses” for things “they should do automatically.”
“Nobody should have to pay you to not be racist,” Cannon-Grant said. “That’s not an incentive. That should come as part of the job.”
Cannon-Grant was referring to a provision in a bill the Baker administration recently released to create a certification system for police officers in Massachusetts.
Hailed by some as a sensible way to coax police into advanced coursework, the proposed language also is seemingly at odds with the demands of protesters, activists, and legislators now coursing through the halls of government.
The bonuses would work on a scale, from $1,000 up to $5,000, and could be awarded for “advanced” courses for de-escalation techniques, bias-free policing, narcotics training, or learning a language “relevant to police work,” among others identified by the state’s Municipal Police Training Committee. The incentives would be capped at one bonus per officer, per year, according to Baker’s office.
Cannon-Grant called the proposed bonuses “a slap in the face to every Black person in this city, to be paid for you to have cultural sensitivity, not be racist and not kill us.
“So essentially he wants to pay them to not kill us, that’s how I take that,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Baker, Maura C. Driscoll, responded in a statement.
“The Baker-Polito administration collaborated with members of the Black and Latino Caucus and public safety officials to file a bill last week that would provide law enforcement with the training and accountability necessary to serve all communities effectively, safely, and responsibly,” she said. “The Baker-Polito administration is committed to enhancing and improving public safety and looks forward to working with the Legislature to pass this bill by the end of the session.”
Baker’s broader police certification bill was greeted positively by some activists and lawmakers.
Amid a nationwide reckoning with police brutality and racism, advocates and some elected officials have called on cities and towns to pour less, not more, money into police department budgets, and shift the funding toward public health, violence prevention, and other programs.
Baker has already staked out ground against “defunding” police and said this month that public officials should not “get out of the business of providing public safety to our communities. I don’t support defunding the police.”
During the march to the State House, some held signs with slogans such as “Kops & Kourts Kill Families,” “How long shall they kill our prophets?!,” and “I can’t breathe.” They also chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” Toward the front of the crowd, people held large photos of slain Black Americans, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, during the 2½-mile trek.
Floyd, a 46-year-old handcuffed Black man, died on Memorial Day when a white Minneapolis police officer pinned his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Taylor was a 26-year-old EMT killed in March by police executing a “no-knock” warrant on her home.
On Monday, Cannon-Grant also cited the killing of Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by an Atlanta police officer earlier this month.
“How many videos do ya’ll need to stop killing Black folks?” asked Cannon-Grant. “That’s my question.”
Eric Garner Jr., the son of Eric Garner, the Black man whose dying calls of “I can’t breathe” after he was placed in a choke hold by an NYPD police officer in 2014 became a protest chant across the country, attended Monday’s demonstration.
“It’s still happening,” he said of police brutality.
Angelique Negroni-Kearse, widow of Andrew Kearse, a 36-year-old Black man, who died of a heart attack in 2017 in the back of a police cruiser in upstate New York after begging a police officer for help, was also in attendance. Earlier this month, federal lawmakers introduced legislation named after Kearse to hold law enforcement officers criminally liable for failing to obtain medical assistance to people in custody experiencing medical distress.
“There’s a lot of voices . . . they need to be heard, and I’m going to keep fighting,” said Negroni-Kearse on Monday.
With demonstrators chanting “No Justice, No Peace,” one protester, Amandla Hameed, 29, of Haverhill, said she hopes the message is that the racially diverse crowd is “united to fight against violence that comes from the police.”
“We hope to change policies,” she said. “There clearly is injustice among” police “against Black people and people of color in poorer communities.”
Hameed, a mental health counselor, added that “we need to defund the police” and place the money into priorities such as mental health, social services, and education.
“That’s where I want to see it,” she said.
Another marcher, Evynand Akombi, 20, of Melrose, said she and her fellow protesters are “resilient.”
“Just because this has happened many times before, I feel like this time is a little different, just because everyone’s come together in such a huge way,” Akombi said. “The continuous protest has kind of shown we are resilient as a group — and not just Black people together but that we have allies coming together to help this be a movement and to make some kind of change.”
Akombi also voiced support for defunding police and said the money would be better spent on things such as education in underserved communities.
Cannon-Grant addressed the demonstrators again once the group, which swelled to more than 300 during the march, reached the State House. She noted that some marchers may have been feeling tired and hot.
“Imagine Eric Garner laying on that hot-ass ground,” Cannon-Grant said.
“Imagine George Floyd laying on that cement with that officer’s kneecap in his neck,” Cannon-Grant said. “We hot, but we still here. Make some noise for still being here to fight.”
The crowd enthusiastically cheered.
“All lives have always mattered, but Black lives have not, and that is a problem,” Cannon-Grant said.
Miriam Mali, 23, of Waltham, held a sign she had covered with the names of Black women killed by police and the question, in large letters, “Am I next?”
“It’s very discouraging that this is happening to anyone. But [the idea of] it happening to me, it just really hits home,” Mali said. “Because you literally never know. You could literally just go out doing a daily activity and not come back home to your loved ones.”
Matt Stout of the Globe staff and correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.