Hundreds in Boston protest Ferguson case
Activists and political leaders in Boston on Monday night decried a grand jury’s decision to not bring criminal charges against a white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., in August. At the same time, more than 200 protesters rallied at City Hall plaza and marched on to the State House.
But some officials and community leaders who spoke to the Globe after the ruling was announced also expressed hope that the decision would spark a conversation about racial inequality in Boston and beyond.
“I think [the ruling is] another example of our criminal justice system not working for people of color,” Michael Curry, president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, said in a phone interview. “What this says to me is that we have to continue to push the message that black lives matter, and that even bad cops, or police officers who use bad judgment, should be held accountable.”
Curry spoke to the Globe moments after St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch told reporters that a grand jury chose not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, 18.
“We should all be shocked and disappointed that nine of 12 people couldn’t meet the very low threshold to find probable cause” to bring charges against Wilson, Curry said.
Outside City Hall, the large group of demonstrators formed a silent circle to remember Brown, and then took the protest to the State House, where they blocked Beacon Street.
Shanae Burch, 23, was among the first to arrive at City Hall. She said one of the chants — “black lives matter” — struck a false note.
“As a black woman I don’t like this chant,” she said. “Black lives matter? Humans matter. I don’t want to come across as the quote-unquote angry black woman. But I am angry. I’ve lived here for six years. People are dying because of the color of their skin.”
Sandy Lopes, 22, a Simmons College student from Dorchester who helped organize the event, said she was disgusted when she learned that Wilson would not be charged.
“It’s sad that a student of color still has to deal with this 50 years after the civil rights movement,” she said.
Standing in front of a row state troopers outside the State House, the demonstrators raised their hands and chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
No arrests associated with the protest were reported.
Councilor Tito Jackson, whose district includes Roxbury and parts of Dorchester, also had strong words for the grand jury.
“I think the grand jury got it absolutely wrong,” Jackson said in an interview. “Sadly, this young man, who should be sitting at his Thanksgiving table with his family in a couple of days, will not be with his family. This is a miscarriage of justice.”
Attempts to reach the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and a spokesman for the State Police Association of Massachusetts for comment on the ruling were unsuccessful Monday night.
Several officials offered their condolences to Brown’s relatives, including Governor Deval Patrick.
Patrick said in a statement that the Brown family is “having to experience their loss afresh. I am thinking tonight of the people of Ferguson, of their police officers, and of the apparent lack of understanding between the two — and I pray for peace.”
Governor-elect Charlie Baker said he respects the grand jury process and also offered condolences.
“They are ones who lost a child and there is no remedy for that loss,” Baker said in a statement. “In addition, my thoughts are with the residents of Ferguson who have lived through these tragic events.”
Other advocates described their reactions as the grand jury’s ruling was made public.
“My immediate reaction was sadness,” said Daunasia Yancey, lead organizer of Black Lives Matter Boston. “I think what I heard sounded to me like a defense attorney. It didn’t sound like what I’d expect from a prosecutor.”
She said Black Lives Matter decided to postpone its rally until Tuesday because it was not clear until late Monday when the announcement would come, and to give organizers and others a chance to process what had happened.
The rally will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday outside a Boston police station in Roxbury.
The Rev. Gregory G. Groover Sr., pastor of Charles Street A.M.E. Church in Roxbury and a former Boston School Committee chairman, said the ruling reflects the nation’s continued struggles with race relations, despite the election of the first black president.
“This represents the reality that our country has not had a mature discussion about race, and we need to deal with racism,” he said. “This is racism at its most blatant form.”
Bill Owens, a former state senator who represented several Boston neighborhoods, offered a similarly bleak prognosis.
“I believe that there is a war against black men . . . young black men,” Owens said. “And I think that something has to be done about it.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh called for peace in Boston, saying in a statement that officials are expecting demonstrations and “we welcome these expressions, done respectfully, responsibly, and peacefully.”
He also invited residents to join him and the Rev. Jeffrey Brown at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury at 6 p.m. Tuesday for a public forum on the ruling.
Curry, the local NAACP president, remained hopeful that some good would come after the grand jury’s ruling.
“I think for folks here in Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, Greater Boston, our hope is that we’ll turn this disappointment and disgust with this decision into engaged voters and civically engaged residents,” he said.