Mayor Walsh today commended the “tens of thousands” of people who participated in a peaceful protest against police brutality on Sunday evening in Boston, but condemned the violence that followed the event, in which numerous businesses were vandalized and looted and scores of people injured.
“I want to begin by recognizing the positive,” Walsh said at a press conference outside of City Hall. “The vast majority of people that came out were passionate and peaceful. We heard from young people speaking from the heart, faith leaders providing wisdom and guidance, and people in our city who want to put an end to racism and make positive change.”
“I don’t want anything to take away from what they accomplished or any impact that they had,” he said. “Your words, testimony and call to action move me and you are moving our society forward.”
But Walsh called the events that unfolded downtown as the protest was ending “unacceptable” and described the rioting as an “attack” on the protesters' positive values.
“What happened downtown after the protest was an attack on those values, our city and our people,” said Walsh. “For the families of the police officers, firefighters, first responders and all of the people that went in town to peacefully protest.”
Police cruisers were set on fire and vandals damaged historical memorials and statues, he said. Walsh said there had been “untold economic damage” to stores in the Back Bay and on Newbury Street— and other parts of the city.
“Nine police officers were taken to the hospital and dozens more were treated by EMS in the field. Eighteen people were transported to the hospital,” said Walsh.
“I’m asking everyone to respect our city and respect those protesting peacefully. To the tens and thousands that protested peacefully yesterday: This is your city, this is our city,” added Walsh.
“We can’t allow violence to take away our focus… I want the black community to know that I hear your message and I will continue to be your ally. We need to create more spaces for peaceful outlets. [Protesters] should be able to do that safely and not have to worry about a brick being thrown at them and hit in the head.”
Walsh also warned that the coronavirus “didn’t go away,” and those that protested against the backdrop of the pandemic took a serious risk.
With other demonstrations planned for tomorrow, Walsh was asked if he is concerned about the potential for more problems.
“Certainly I have some concerns, not about the demonstration, but what happens after the demonstration," he said. "We’re going to get in contact with the organizers about tomorrow night, and about what happens afterwards.”
“It’s really the right messaging that the organizers need to get to the crowd, all of us need to work on messaging,” he added. “I think it's important that with any marches being planned, the organizers should talk to the police department to at least let us know what their route is so we can put proper safety protocols in place.”
Walsh said that his priority moving forward is keeping Bostonians safe, especially during the pandemic. “Our number one priority is coronavirus. We’ve been working on this for the last three months,” he said.
“We’ve been having conversations about how we can move the city forward-- dealing with health inequities and lack of opportunity. This virus has magnified the need to do more work with disparities.
Boston Police Commissioner William Gross and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins also spoke at the press conference.
“Let’s talk about yesterday,” said Gross. “It was mostly peaceful, and thank you to the media for showing the world that the protest started off peacefully, in homage of Mr. George Floyd. I’m very proud of that. I’m very proud of our community stakeholders that led groups of young black men and women to peacefully protest. That’s what should be done.”
Gross continued: “We know what’s going on in our nation…voices have to be heard and black lives do matter. Those voices speaking out against murderous acts have to be heard and move us to where we can support the community better.”
The Commissioner noted that 53 arrests were made last night and broke down the numbers saying to dispel a “negative view and perception” that violent protesters only came from the “inner city.”
“The breakdown is that 27 of those arrested were from Boston, 24 arrests were made on people from outside of the city, from other states there were two arrests and 1 summons,” said Gross.
“Unfortunately, these individuals showed up not with a peaceful intent in mind. That’s not paying homage to George Floyd. The BPD prides ourselves on working with the community and we applaud everyone that protested peacefully.”
“The people from our community didn’t want this, and the negative actions will not deter us from remaining together as a community. This should strengthen our resolve to work together no matter what.”
Gross’ comments were met with applause as DA Rollins stepped up to the podium.
“I am exhausted. I have looked around this country and seen police officers shoot us in the street as if we were animals. I feel as if my heart does certainly go out to the police officers harmed last night, we never wish that on anyone,” she said.
“This burning rage that you are seeing is real, people are fed up. And to the white community who are now waking up to see this rage-- we have been telling you this forever. We have been saying this for decades and you didn't listen to us.”
She added that the violent protesters acted in a way that was “unacceptable,” and will be held accountable.
“There are currently three sessions at the Boston Municipal Court prosecuting individuals that disgraced George Floyd’s memory by looting and burning police cars last night,” said Rollins. “This was unacceptable, you will be prosecuted and held accountable.”
Still, she added: “Buildings can be fixed. The lives that were stolen. The people that were lynched and murdered and are never coming back. I hope you take a moment to reflect on what a terrible moment we are experiencing right now.”