Metro
    Next Score View the next score

    Adrian Walker

    Violence across the country touches many in Boston

    Police officers looked on during a rally held near Dudley Square on Saturday.
    Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
    Police officers looked on during a rally held near Dudley Square on Saturday.

    The racially charged violence that shook the country last week may have occurred in distant states, but that provided no comfort to Christina Alexis.

    The community activist was deeply shaken by the police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota and rattled by the carnage that followed in Dallas. In the first two incidents, black men were shot to death by white police officers. In Dallas, at an event protesting those shootings, five police officers were killed, allegedly all by a black gunman who had expressed an intent to kill white people.

    The shock waves had become a lot for Alexis to bear, especially as the mother of two young black children.

    Advertisement

    “I haven’t slept in two days,” said Alexis, executive director of the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House, a Cambridge social service agency. “It’s partly because I work in this space and I do this work all the time. Everyone I’ve spoken to says the same thing: I can’t sleep.”

    Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
    The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
    Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

    While the shock and grief of last week knew no racial or ethnic boundaries, the unease of the police shootings was felt especially deeply in the black community. A latent feeling of anxiety became full-fledged dread as the videos of the shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., went viral.

    Alexis thought about what to say to her young children, whose safety has become a constant worry. She tells them to be aware of their surroundings, to be on the lookout for anything that seems strange.

    “What is it like to tell a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old that they need to be aware of their surroundings?” Alexis asked rhetorically. “Kids don’t get to be kids anymore. We’re taking away their innocence all the time.”

    The wave of violence prompted a weekend of protest and prayers: a Black Lives Matter event Friday night was followed by a rally and panel discussion in Dudley Square on Saturday and sermons across the city on Sunday. What tied those events together was the desire to make sense of events that feel senseless.

    Advertisement

    There’s nothing new about violence, or even about police shootings. But the way we experience them is different now. We see the shooting on the Internet or on cable — over and over again. We’re face to face with tragedies in a way that was unknown even a few years ago.

    That’s been compounded in the past week by the racial nature of what we witnessed. First, Sterling was shot as he was pinned to the ground in Baton Rouge. While the shock of that video was still setting in, Castile was shot to death by police in Minnesota. Neither man posed a threat to officers.

    And as those outrages were bring protested, a former military officer in Dallas allegedly killed five police officers in what appears to have been a carefully planned rampage. Police have said that Micah Xavier Johnson had amassed an arsenal of weapons and had plans to inflict far more damage. Those plans, as well as Johnson’s life, came to an end when he was killed by a bomb delivered by a robot — an act that set off another debate, about the line between policing and militarization.

    Overnight, the violence prompted a national discussion about whether our longstanding racial divide is growing even larger. That is a debate that needs to happen. But the protests across the nation also reflected a world that is growing ever smaller and interconnected. Events that once felt far away — as if they couldn’t happen to us — now feel like that they could very well happen to us. There may not be any safe spaces from the anger that feels like it could explode at any time.

    So when Dallas explodes, Dudley Square protests. It’s both a cry for justice and a plea for safety. At a time of deep anguish, there was healing in proclaiming that black lives matter.

    Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.