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    Kevin Cullen

    A need for change, but protesters not helping

    Traffic built behind protesters who blocked the Southeast Expressway northbound in Milton on Thursday morning.
    Scott Eisen for The Boston Globe
    Traffic built behind protesters who blocked the Southeast Expressway northbound in Milton on Thursday morning.

    Dan Linskey used to be the top uniformed police officer in Boston. He retired from the Boston Police Department last year and now runs a company that trains police in tactics and improving community relations.

    But he’s also a husband and a dad and a neighbor, and one of his neighbors in Hyde Park, a very nice lady without a family to call on, is being treated for cancer.

    Linskey is one of those in the neighborhood who have volunteered to drive her to and from chemotherapy treatments at Boston Medical Center.

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    “There’s a group of us,” he said. “It was my turn on Thursday.”

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    He was driving his neighbor down Blue Hill Avenue, near Franklin Field, when he heard that protesters had shut down the Southeast Expressway in Milton and his first thought was he was glad he hadn’t taken a route that would have brought them near the backup.

    But when he led his neighbor in for her chemo, he realized that many people had gotten stuck. The usually bustling clinic was half-empty.

    He got talking to one member of the staff, a woman originally from Haiti who looks after the patients and cleans up after them.

    She said she had driven in to work from south of the city and was just minutes ahead of the protesters who expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter group by shackling themselves to barrels of concrete on the northbound side of the Expressway in Milton.

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    Some of her friends, most of them, like her, women of color, weren’t as lucky. They got stuck in the mess and were hours late for work. They are paid by the hour and the hours that they don’t work are hours they aren’t paid.

    “She was worried about the patients who were late,” Linskey said. “She was worried about her friends who were late and would lose pay. And she wondered what she would have done if she had lost a couple of hours of pay because people claiming to speak for her had done what they had done.”

    Later, after he had driven his neighbor home, Linskey read the statement that the protesters put out. In it, they said their actions were meant to “disrupt access from the predominantly white, wealthy suburbs to Boston’s city center,” to “protest police and state violence against black people,” and “to confront white complacency in the systemic oppression of black people in Boston.”

    But it occurred to Linskey that most of the people who drive in to the city are not wealthy. Many live paycheck to paycheck. And, in the case of Boston Medical Center, the mostly white doctors who were late to work weren’t docked pay; it was the hourly workers at the hospital, the mostly women of color like the nice lady from Haiti, who stood to lose most by the protest.

    It was no accident that the protest unfolded on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. In their statement explaining their actions, the protesters cited King.

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    “Why do we do it this way?” they quoted King as saying. “We do it this way because it is our experience that the nation doesn’t move around questions of genuine equality for the poor and for black people until it is confronted massively, dramatically in terms of direct action.”

    But how often did Martin Luther King put others, like the man here whose ambulance had to be redirected on Thursday, in danger?

    It was King and the civil rights marchers who were most in danger, not some poor guy racing to a hospital.

    One of those protesters arrested in Milton the other day had been arrested a few years ago when he was part of a group that shouted down a speaker at a Tea Party rally on Boston Common. They had fake blood to throw on the Tea Party adherents. It’s the classic attitude of a zealot: free speech for me, but not for thee.

    The other thing about zealots is they’re not big on complexities. This is true of zealots of all persuasions, from those who tied up traffic to the racists they rail against. They both lump huge groups of people together as one-dimensional monoliths, so there are, in this particular case, no good police officers.

    “The whole system, Boston included, is rotten to the core,” their statement said of police.

    But, if that were true, then there is no realistic hope for changing things for the better.

    “You know,” Dan Linskey said, “I actually have a lot of sympathy for some of the things the protesters are concerned about.”

    He believes there is a need for better communication between cops and young black men and teens. That cops need to hear kids when they complain about being stopped routinely on the street. That kids need to hear that sometimes that might be because a kid is wearing the wrong baseball cap in the wrong neighborhood, that the cop may be trying to save rather than harass them.

    He said there are people all across the city — Emmett Folgert and his staff at the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, Stanley Pollack and his staff at Teen Empowerment in Roxbury, African-American ministers at any number of churches — who work hard to facilitate these needed conversations between cops and young people.

    “What people at places like the Dorchester Youth Collaborative and Teen Empowerment are doing are not stunts,” Linskey said. “It’s important work, at a grass-roots level.”

    How many people did the protesters win over to their way of thinking the other day? I’d guess they probably alienated more who were vaguely sympathetic to their argument. Because that’s what zealots do. They don’t generate conversations. They end them.

    “We have to change our system,” Dan Linskey said. “We’ve got to find a better way to do things, but it ain’t dropping barrels of cement on 93 that will get us there.”

    Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.