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Black leaders call for race commissions in wake of violent white supremacist march in Boston

Artist and activist Charles Murrell (left) who was allegedly attacked by members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front in Boston on Saturday, sang during a press conference as the Rev. Kevin Peterson, founder and director of the New Democracy Coalition, stood beside him. The press conference was organized by Peterson to denounce white supremacists and call on city leaders to do more to bring about racial reconciliation.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Local Black leaders gathered on the steps of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square Monday to denounce the white supremacists who marched through the city with shields and flags on Saturday and allegedly assaulted a 34-year-old Black activist near the corner of Stuart and Dartmouth streets.

Led by the Reverend Kevin Peterson, the community leaders held a press conference to condemn Patriot Front, the white supremacist organization, and called on city and state officials to show their support for antiracist policies and the creation of a city race commission.

“We call on [Boston Mayor Michelle Wu] to move beyond symbols, rhetoric, and words that may soothe our hearts, and address this racism with substantive policies,” said Peterson, the founder and director of the New Democracy Coalition.

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About 100 members of Patriot Front snaked through the city on Saturday afternoon. Dressed in khaki pants, navy T-shirts, sunglasses and baseball caps, and wearing white neck gaiters covering most of their faces, they were videotaped in well-known spots along the Freedom Trail.

The demonstration turned violent when members of the group allegedly assaulted Charles Murrell III as they marched. Murrell, who uses any pronouns, was taken by ambulance to Tufts Medical Center for injuries to their right ring finger, head, and left eyebrow, according to a police report.

On the way to the hospital, Murrell told police that while walking on Dartmouth Street, they were “shoved around and in the middle of the group of individuals with shields and masks,” the report said. The report said Murrell “eventually shoved back” and then was knocked to the ground and faced hits and kicks from “a larger majority of the group.”

Murrell took part in the press conference on the library steps Monday. As throngs of people wearing red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July ambled through the square, the sorrowful notes of the African American spiritual “Another Man Done Gone” rang through the air.

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“He had a long chain on, had a long chain on,” sang Murrell. “They killed another man, killed another man. Another man done gone.”

Boston police had not made any arrests Monday. Sergeant Detective John Boyle, the department’s head spokesperson, said detectives and the civil rights unit continue to investigate the incident. The department has not yet determined whether the white supremacists are from Massachusetts or out of state.

“That’s all part of the investigation,” Boyle said.

Police spokesperson Andre Watson said the group did not pull any permits for Saturday’s march, which he said is not uncommon for protests.

Mawakana Onifade, an adviser for Murrell, said there should be more accountability for elected officials and the police.

“To look at this incident as a one-off [event] is an atrocity and a crime,” Onifade said. “This is the old age that needs to be dismantled.”

The Rev. Miniard Culpepper of Pleasant Hill Missionary Church, who’s running for the 2nd Suffolk state Senate seat, called for policy changes at the state level. He said state leaders should create a “racism, reconciliation, and restoration” commission.

“We need to look at the data at how often these incidents take place, the size of these organizations, … and organizations that are spewing similar hatred,” he said. “The state can look and begin to collect data.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Patriot Front as a Texas-based white nationalist hate group that split from the fascist organization, Vanguard America, following the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

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In June, police in Idaho arrested 31 men associated with the Patriot Front who were packed into a U-Haul truck, allegedly en route to cause a violent disruption at a Pride celebration. Authorities charged them with misdemeanor conspiracy to riot.

Between November 2017 and December, the Anti-Defamation League documented more than 600 incidents in Massachusetts involving Patriot Front. The incidents included the distribution of Patriot Front propaganda and acts of vandalism, ADL records show.

In the ADL’s latest report about the distribution of white supremacist propaganda, the organization said last year Patriot Front was responsible for more than 82 percent of incidents nationwide. Its propaganda efforts were most active, the ADL said, in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, and Maryland.

Patriot Front activities in 2021 included destroying Black Live Matters statues and murals, stealing and burning yard signs and flags celebrating diversity and the LGBTQ community, and distributing propaganda at Jewish institutions, the ADL said.

At a Fourth of July speech at Faneuil Hall Monday morning, Mayor Wu condemned the white supremacist group, saying, “We won’t let any bigots intimidate us in our work to build a city for everyone.”

Wu celebrated the city’s pivotal role in the nation’s founding and referenced hopes for Boston’s future.

”Boston has always been a city of the future,” she said, pointing to its status as a leader in the fights for the abolition of slavery and, a century and a half later, for marriage equality.

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She added that freedom is an “ongoing mission,” saying that it is “not anything that we have, but a thing that we do.”

Boston City Council president Ed Flynn said he was “outraged” when he learned about the white supremacist march through the district he represents. Flynn wants to see members of the group charged for civil rights violations.

“They are intentionally coming to Boston looking to divide the city, looking to exploit the city for their own political cause, and people say that they’re entitled to their free speech, but I would draw the line when that free speech is hate speech and that hate speech turns quickly to violence,” he said.

Boston Globe Correspondent Anjali Huynh contributed to this report. Material from previous Globe stories was used in this report.


Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at tiana.woodard@globe.com. Follow her @tianarochon. Taylor Dolven can be reached at taylor.dolven@globe.com. Follow her @taydolven.