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Boston demonstrators demand justice in Baltimore

This story was reported by Evan Allen, Sean P. Murphy, Steve Annear, and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Alexandra Koktsidis and M.G. Lee. It was written by Andersen.

More than 500 demonstrators peacefully marched through Boston on Wednesday night to show solidarity with those in other cities protesting the death of a young black man who died in police custody earlier this month in Baltimore.

Boston police closed major thoroughfares, including stretches of Massachusetts Avenue and Tremont Street, to vehicle traffic as protesters marched through Roxbury and the South End, banging drums, chanting, and demanding justice for Freddie Gray, who died in Baltimore on April 19.


The crowd gathered behind police headquarters in Roxbury at about 6 p.m. and were greeted by police Superintendent in Chief William Gross, who shook hands with organizer Brock Satter. "I'm a student of history," Gross, the department's first black police chief, told Satter. "If people didn't protest what they felt was injustice, I wouldn't be here in this capacity today as chief."

The rally began soon after with a call and response chant of "Hands up! Don't shoot," as Satter laid out the demands of the group, called Mass Action Against Police Brutality.

"We have a clear message," he said. "We're going to demand the government indict the killers of Freddie Gray. If you want peace, if you want calm, jail the killers of Freddie Gray."

Gray's death has sparked protests — and violent unrest — in Baltimore, where National Guard troops have converged to help restore order in the wake of looting and property damage that prompted officials to institute a 10 p.m. curfew in the city.

On Wednesday, Satter said the Boston group was demanding the draw-down of the National Guard, the lifting of the curfew, and amnesty for all protesters. Demonstrators chanted "no justice, no peace, no racist police," and several speakers addressed the crowd.


The protesters included a mix of black and white, young and old, and included clergy and community organizers. Many appeared to be students from nearby colleges.

At one point, demonstrators began singing the civil rights anthem, "We Shall Overcome."

Nikea Ramsey, whose brother, Burrell Ramsey-White, was fatally shot by Boston police in 2012, was among the speakers at the rally.

"We stand with Baltimore, we stand with Ferguson, we stand with Staten Island," Ramsey said, referring to the deaths of Gray and two other black men who were killed during encounters with white police officers in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City.

"This pain is real," Ramsey said. "I just had a baby, 3 months old, never going to meet his uncle."

Another speaker, Wayne Dozier, the grandfather of DJ Henry, a college football player from Easton who was killed by police in upstate New York in 2010, paused to collect himself as he recounted the loss of his grandson at the age of 20.

"He was my oldest," Dozier said. "He was my oldest grandchild. He was on his way . . . It hurts."

Dozier said the perception of young black men must change.

"Just remember, that 25-year-old was somebody's baby and they broke his back like an animal," Dozier said, referring to Gray, who had suffered a spinal injury during his arrest. "Twenty-five years in this world is nothing, he was a baby."


Around 7:15 p.m., the group began marching away from police headquarters, continuing chants of "Whose street? Our street" and "hands up, don't shoot," as they crossed Tremont onto Mass. Avenue, before eventually stopping outside the Roxbury district police station on Washington Street.

At one point along the route, as marchers crossed Melnea Cass Boulevard on Tremont, two young men stood at an intersection with signs that read "we support cops." Some demonstrators hurled insults at them.

But the march was generally peaceful, and police said there were no arrests as of 9 p.m., when the march had ended.

Earlier, many observers hung out of second-floor windows or stood on stoops, cheering on the marchers.

The event came hours after Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said tension in the city is high over the death of Gray. Evans spoke at police headquarters after meeting with religious leaders from across the city.

"I will never say we will never be Baltimore because, unfortunately, tensions are high across the city,'' Evans said.

"I think we have great relations, and we've done great work. But sometimes, it can only be one unfortunate incident that can set off a community, no matter how much work you've done.''

While Wednesday night's protest was peaceful, other recent demonstrations in the Boston area over racial issues have resulted in arrests and confrontations.

In January, 29 protesters affiliated with the group Black Lives Matter were arrested after they snarled morning traffic on Interstate 93 in Medford and Milton, forming blockades on the highway by attaching themselves to barrels.


In early December, at least 10 protesters were arrested after a large group gathered at a tree-lighting ceremony on Boston Common and then fanned out across the city, blocking traffic in several locations and disrupting MBTA service.

On Wednesday, one demonstrator, Evan Cutts, 20, of Roxbury, called for a more frank discussion about police brutality.

"This has been a problem that has been brushed to the side," Cutts said. "I want to see more of the truth."

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.