BOSTON (AP) — A Sunday afternoon of mostly peaceful protests in Boston broke at nightfall when protesters clashed with officers, throwing rocks, breaking into several stores and lighting a police vehicle on fire.
Thousands of mostly mask-wearing demonstrators marched peacefully through Boston in several protests during the day, lending their voices to the nationwide anger over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck as he pleaded for air.
The largest protest of several thousand started Sunday night in the historically black neighborhood of Roxbury. Protesters carrying “Black Lives Matter” signs and chanting “The people united will never be defeated” made their way slowly for several miles to the Massachusetts State House. The diverse and peaceful crowd was flanked by police officers on bikes.
But as the march ended around 9 p.m., protesters clashed with police in downtown Boston. A police cruiser’s rear window was smashed by a skateboarder. Police also tweeted that their officers were pelted with bricks, rocks, and glass bottles.
As of 3 a.m. Monday, seven police officers had been hospitalized, 21 police cruisers were damaged and around 40 people were arrested, the department tweeted, calling the situation active.
Protesters stole items from several stores including a Walgreens and a shoe store and damaged other several storefronts including a bank.
A National Guard unit was called in to help quell the violence around 11 p.m.
“Tonight’s protests were motivated by a righteous desire for equality, justice, and accountability in our country. I see you. I hear you. I will use my voice for you,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement.
“I am angered, however, by the people who came into our city and chose to engage in acts of destruction and violence, undermining their message,” he said. “If we are to achieve change and if we are to lead the change, our efforts must be rooted in peace and regard for our community.”
Gov. Charlie Baker criticized the violence in a tweet, calling it “criminal and cowardly” and saying it “distracted from the powerful statement made today by thousands of Massachusetts residents.”
Earlier in the day, hundreds of people, including several families, marched through downtown Boston on Sunday carrying signs reading “Justice for George” and “Silence is betrayal,” among others, and chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Orderly but energized and angry at times, the crowd took over one side of a city street as they passed City Hall, the State House, and the Public Garden.
Some passing motorists honked in support, and in one case, several bikers revved their motorcycles, prompting cheers from the crowd. The demonstration then gathered in Boston Common, an iconic park in the heart of Boston, with some kneeling for several minutes in memory of Floyd and raising their fists in the air.
The earlier peaceful nature of the protests was in stark contrast to violence that has rocked cities across the country in recent days in response to the death of Floyd.
“They keep killing our people. I’m so sick and tired of it,” said Mahira Louis, 15, who was at the afternoon protest with her mother and was leading chants of “George Floyd, say his name.” “On the news, every time we say black lives matter they keep silencing us. Things are going to change. It’s going to change around here. They’re not going to kill black people for no reason.”
Others said the killing of Floyd on top of the coronavirus that has disproportionately hit communities of color and resulted in job losses made it imperative they come out and protest.
“The recent events between COVID, the killing of George Floyd, the injustices this society is sort of predicated on are just surfacing in a very undeniable way,” said Silvian Castaneda, a 62-year-old social worker from Medford who came to the rally with several family members and friends. “We’ve got to do something.”
The safety concerns of the coronavirus were also on the minds of protesters, many who wore masks but rarely practiced social distancing. They were packed shoulder to shoulder as they marched which had several of them a little anxious.
“It isn’t comfortable to be at home but it’s really uncomfortable to be here, too, and know you’re doing this in the face of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Vivian Lee, 22, who participated with her sister and parents. “But it requires some discomfort for change.”
A third protest featured church leaders who rallied outside Boston police headquarters, according to The Boston Globe. After speaking out against police brutality as well as income inequality and lack of coronavirus testing, the crowd observed a moment of silence for 8 minutes and 49 seconds, a reference to the several minutes the officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck.