In two Boston suburbs Sunday, hundreds gathered to express anger and frustration — and hope for progress and dialogue — following grand jury decisions in Missouri and Staten Island, N.Y., to not indict white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men.
In Lexington at noontime, about 150 people hoisted signs with slogans such as “White Silence = More Violence” and sang “We Shall Overcome.”
In Newton, as the sunset colored the sky pink and purple, more than 500 marched wordlessly from one church to another, their silence representing the extinguished voices of the slain.
Both protests were peaceful and included many who said they do not often march but were moved to action by grand juries not bringing criminal charges against the police officers who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City.
“As a privileged suburban white guy, I need to do something more than sit and yell at the TV,” said David Abromowitz, 58, a Newton resident who marched in his city’s protest.
“I was furious when the nonindictments came down and very disappointed in the amount of institutional racism in our country,” said Jamie Davis, one of the Lexington protest organizers. “Especially here in privileged communities, we need to [do] our part to speak out against racism.”
The Newton protest began as hundreds, including Mayor Setti Warren, gathered at Myrtle Baptist Church and listened to speeches from local clergy, delivered through a bullhorn.
Then, the protesters silently walked down the street, over the Massachusetts Turnpike, and to the church of the First Unitarian Society in Newton, where they held hands in prayer.
While the marchers, diverse in age and race, did not speak, their signs telegraphed their messages. “Black Lives Matter,” read one. “Justice for the silenced,” read another. “Do Not Shoot Me! I Have a Dream . . . ” read a handwritten placard held by a boy.
Hundreds packed into pews at First Unitarian and listened to impassioned invocations from clergy, many calling them to more action and reflection.
“It is my prayer that we will not leave here and pat ourselves on the back, and say, ‘We’ve done a great deed as middle-class citizens,’ ” said the Rev. Brandon Crowley, senior pastor at Myrtle Baptist, “but that we will truly awaken our spirits and shock our consciousness with the blood of dead black men.”
Following last month’s grand jury decision not to indict an officer in the shooting death of Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, and this month’s grand jury decision not to bring criminal charges against an officer in the choke-hold death of Garner, an unarmed 43-year-old, protesters
Tom Diaz, a Lexington Democratic activist at the protest in his town, said he thinks grand juries are too much under the sway of local officials. “There are just too many stories of grand juries passing over these people,” he said.
The rally, held in the center of downtown Lexington, was low-key, with speeches from local clergy and singing, but no attempts at civil disobedience or traffic disruption, as had occurred at larger protests in Boston on Thursday and in Cambridge and Somerville on Friday.
In the town known as the location of the first battle of the American Revolution, a mostly white and older crowd began gathering at noon not far from the spot of the 1775 skirmish. Some came with their children, many with handwritten signs.
“I like that sign, ‘You don’t have to be Black to be outraged,’ ” said Nancy Alloway, a 69-year-old Lexington resident. “I want people to know that people in Lexington support the cause.”
Marie Roberts, 85, a Lexington resident, said she rarely protests but showed up Sunday because she is angry about what’s happened, and “I think it’s important to add your voice.”
Regie O’Hare Gibson, one of the few African-American people at the protest, said he had been speaking with his two school-age sons in recent days about what’s been happening in Missouri and New York, discussing American history and the fact that the country still has “wounds” and issues it needs to work out.
The 47-year-old Lexington resident brought his sons, 13 and 8, to the rally and said he wanted them to see that there are good people who want to work for justice.
O’Hare Gibson also said he wanted them to understand that equality, fairness, and liberty, “these things we say, which are abstractions and platitudes, have to also have action behind them.”
He continued: “This is action. This is solidarity.”
At the Newton protest, Ellen Lubell, 55, said she has watched events unfold and felt “enraged and grief-stricken” and been left wondering what to do as a community and a country.
She said she believed, perhaps, the best action is to begin looking at our own communities.
Henry Brown, an 82-year-old Weston resident, who has had friends killed by police and who marched decades ago with Martin Luther King Jr., said he was buoyed by the diversity of the crowd in Newton.
“It’s not just a black issue anymore,” he said.
A common thread emerged in interviews with protesters and in the sermons of clergy: So much work remains.
“Why do we walk? Why do we walk?” asked the Rev. Stacy Swain of the Union Church in Waban, who spoke in Newton Sunday night. “Because there’s a long way still to go.”
Joshua Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.