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Partying, protest mark Boston’s First Night

Protesters marching to Copley and participating in the Die-In
Protesters marching to Copley and participating in the Die-In

In fireworks and ice sculptures, through puppets and parades, Boston on Wednesday toasted 2015’s arrival, as protests rang a sober reminder that 2014’s trials will not disappear with December.

Chanting “black lives matter,” the now-familiar refrain following deaths in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City, demonstrators timed their protest to coincide with First Night’s festivities.

But they did not disrupt the fun for families who came to celebrate, and so celebrate they did.

Revelers came to the Back Bay and downtown by the thousands, bundled up against a bracing cold in parkas accented with New Year’s flair: top hats and boas and shiny plastic 2015 eyeglasses.

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At 11 p.m., with anticipation growing for the midnight fireworks, revelers near the Frog Pond on Boston Common paused to photograph an ice sculpture and take in the other decorations.

“It’s very beautiful,” said Sharolyn Smith, 37, of South Boston, as her boyfriend snapped pictures.

Earlier in the evening, families flocked to the parade route for what has become the kick-off to an annual extravaganza for the city. They hoisted children onto shoulders to hoot and wave as marching bands, floats, and Chinese lion dance troupes made their way down Boylston Street.

As the first round of fireworks approached at 7 p.m., revelers packed Boston Common, snacking on French fries and struggling to stay warm as they counted down the minutes to the big show.

Then, right on time, the sky ignited. Gasps and cries of excitement came from the crowd, as people pointed their cell phones up to record the show. Faces stared upward with wonder as the sky exploded in red, white, and blue.

For Jackson Fogel, 3, First Night was a personal first.

“The last couple of New Year’s Eves, he’s been asleep by about 6:30,” said his father, Jackson Fogel, 36.

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But for his son, the most fascinating flashing lights were at ground level.

“He loves seeing police cars,” Fogel said.

There were plenty on hand.

Boston police vowed to be out in large numbers, and Mayor Martin J. Walsh had in recent days urged protesters to be respectful of families out enjoying the festivities. On Wednesday evening, protesters appeared to be making good on their pledge to exercise their right to free speech peacefully. Police said there were no arrests.

Protesters began to march around 3 p.m., carrying handmade signs and chanting while bystanders took pictures, raised their arms in support, or, in some cases, swore and shouted.

At 5 p.m., roughly 100 protesters descended on Copley Square. Under the watchful eyes of about two dozen uniformed officers, the demonstrators took up positions in front of the Boston Public Library.

Together, the protesters dropped to the ground and lay still — a protest known as a “die-in,” meant to mimic the deaths of black men and boys killed by police.

As they were lying down, an organizer read the names of some who were killed by police in 2014: Michael Brown, an unarmed teen shot to death in Ferguson, Mo.; Eric Garner, who died after being wrestled to the ground by police in New York; and Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was holding a pellet gun when a Cleveland police officer shot him.

The protest did not interfere with the parade, which turned onto Boylston Street a few minutes after the die-in ended. Along the route, a small group of protesters unfurled a banner. “No New Year Under This Old System!” it read, followed by a version of Garner’s dying words: “We Can’t Breathe!”

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After the parade had passed, about 50 of the demonstrators marched along Boylston Street, as First Night attendees looked on.

The protest dispersed quietly after 6 p.m., with protesters vowing to remain committed to their cause.

“Institutionalized racism and police brutality hasn’t ended, we need to continue this part of the conversation that everyone’s thinking about, everyone’s talking about, until a change is made,” said Brock Satter, 43, of East Boston, who helped organize the First Night action.

Brandi Artez, 28, of the South End, urged the crowd to keep their movement alive going forward.

“We have to keep going,” Artez said. “The civil rights movement took 10-plus years.”

Wednesday night was not the first time protesters had brought their message to a citywide celebration. Boston’s annual Christmas tree lighting party was also the rallying point for a larger demonstration.

Dan Bohrs of Newton came for the fun but said he had no objection to the protesters exercising their free speech rights..

“They’re trying to get the word out,” said Bohrs, 50.

He added that while some people have raised concerns the demonstrators, on the grounds that First Night is a family event, “kids can learn about civics as well.”

But for some who came downtown for the First Night revelry, the protests seemed out of place.

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Eric Roschardt, 43, said he and his family came to visit the city from El Salvador. He said he did not think First Night was an appropriate venue for the protests. “It’s a happy moment,” said Roschardt.

As the midnight fireworks drew closer, many revelers, including Smith, the South Boston woman out with her boyfriend, planned to move to the waterfront to watch the display as it went off over the Boston Harbor.

She said she hoped 2015 would be a year of greater harmony among people.

“Enjoy everyone, regardless of your ethnicity. Black or white, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “I’d like to see more togetherness in 2015.”


Evan Allen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at Travis.Andersen@Globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Jeremy.Fox@Globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeremyCFox. Nestor Ramos can be reached at Nestor.Ramos@Globe.com. Follow him on twitter @NestorARamos.