Signs hoisted and banners waving, roughly 200 people gathered outside the Massachusetts State House on Saturday afternoon to protest the killing of Tyre Nichols, who was beaten to death by police in Memphis three weeks ago.
Body camera footage of the attack, in which Nichols can be heard begging for his mother as he is assaulted, was released Friday, sparking a series of marches nationwide.
Local officials and community leaders attended a vigil for Nichols Friday evening, where Mayor Michelle Wu said “Boston will not rest” until Black and brown men feel safe everywhere in the city. But activists at Saturday’s march, organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation, issued a scathing indictment of city and state institutions, calling on elected officials to abandon symbolic gestures and commit to structural change in the criminal justice system.
“The whole damn system is guilty as hell. I ain’t playing, and we ain’t playing, because enough is enough,” said Savina Martin, one of the speakers and a longtime housing and racial justice activist in Boston.
Martin urged the crowd to be relentless in their advocacy the safety of young Black and brown people who are “on the verge, like my sons, of maybe not coming home tonight.”
“As long as breath is in my body, I’m here,” she added. “So suit up, boot up, and let’s turn up the heat on these streets.”
Jennifer Root Bannon, whose brother Juston Root was shot to death in 2020 by Boston and state police, said the news of Nichols’ murder “hurts my heart deeply and tremendously.”
“We’re in a club that does not want any more members, and that no one wants to join,” she said. And yet, “there’s a lot of people joining this club every day.”
As she continues to push for an independent investigation into the death of her brother, who would have turned 44 yesterday, Bannon said she has devoted the rest of her life to demanding greater accountability so that no one else has to join the club of loss and suffering caused by police brutality.
“I don’t want to hear, ‘I’m so sorry.’ Get in the uncomfortable place and investigate. ... I want action,” she said. “My brother’s gone, he’s dead, but I will use his story to change things.”
Activists also made the connection between Nichols’ death and the police killing of Sayed Faisal, a 20-year-old student from Bangladesh who was fatally shot by Cambridge police earlier this month, with crowds chanting, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! If Tyre doesn’t get it? Shut it down! If Faisal doesn’t get it? Shut it down!”
“People think that Massachusetts is this save haven of inclusivity and tolerance, but that’s a lie,” said one 28-year-old organizer for the Party for Socialism and Liberation who identified himself as JD. “So let’s be clear: this is about justice for Tyre Nichols, and it’s about justice for all victims and survivors of racist police brutality.”
The group is planning another protest in Somerville on Sunday, while demonstrations by various other groups have been planned for this weekend and the upcoming week across New England, including on Monday in Worcester, as well as in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.
Protesters on Saturday marched along the Boston Common and toward Downtown Crossing before winding back to the State House, waving signs and carrying a banner that read “STOP RACIST POLICE BRUTALITY.” The five officers who killed Nichols were Black, but people marching said the situation extends beyond any individual officer and that it is the very institution of policing that is racist and desperately in need of change.
“The system is so racist... it’ll corrupt you,” said PSL organizer Joe Tache. “Even if you don’t pull the trigger, you’ll stand next to them and defend them and call them your brother.”
“It’s a culture, it’s not about Black cops or white cops,” added Cornell Coley, 70. “The culture of policing is just too cruel.”
The Mattapan musician and teacher said protesting year after year can sometimes feel “discouraging.”
“There was a window of kindness that opened after George Floyd, that stayed open for maybe half a year, but that’s closed now,” he said. “But we don’t have a choice, we have to keep fighting.”
Martina Crane and her partner, who came from Medford to join the demonstration, called protests like this “one of the only things that make me feel like I can keep getting up and trying to do something about this, because there’s other people that care.”
“As a gay couple, we understand on some level that everything is interconnected. I’m consistently anti-oppression, so police brutality, injustice, I’m just really sick of all of it,” she said. “But being in a crowd like this, I feel super energized. It gives me hope.”
Ivy Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @itsivyscott.