I wanted to go to the protest, but I’d never been before. I have visceral memories of 2016 and 2017, staring out my window at work to see the Women’s March, the People’s Climate March, and others, quite literally pass me by.
Well, I quit that job. And in the Covid-times I’ve lost others. What can I say, I’m available.
I waited too long and fretted too much about making a sign, then finally ripped an old box apart to paint “Black Lives Matter” on one side, and the names of Black men and women killed by police on the other, adding “Not One More.” I found a list. I’d be lying if I said I recognized all of the names – I didn’t. I fretted more: what if someone asks me “who is Marco Loud?” and I don’t have an answer?
This added to my list of things to learn. I have so much learning to do. I am a good student, but have left myself badly schooled. I left the sign at home, and took my body and my voice.
Dorchester is the biggest and most diverse neighborhood in Boston. Diverse, but segregated. I live where the white end meets the Vietnamese strip. You can almost see the line drawn on the street where Dorchester turns Black. On Tuesday, as I walked from my home at Savin Hill to Franklin Park – 1.7 miles – I saw it.
Walking down Columbia Road, the sidewalks started to thicken with protesters, sign holders. More joined us as people climbed out of parked cars and walked the slope to the park. Anecdotally, all of the protesters walking in my vicinity were white. White people driving into Dorchester, taking Dorchester parking spaces, to protest that Black Lives Matter. Cool.
As we passed clusters of friendly, helmeted cops standing by, the white youth shyly hid their ACAB signs.
I arrived at 5 to find the park at Blue Hill Avenue teeming with people – largely Black, here. Within seconds the crowd swarmed into the intersection of Blue Hill and Columbia, taking the streets hostage for an 8 minute, 46 second “die in,” commemorating the murder of George Floyd.
The cops stepped into traffic to pause cars as we lay on hot concrete, escorting our movement.
After the die-in we marched into Franklin Park, filling both lanes of Circuit Drive, chanting our way to the Shattuck Picnic Grove. Things were friendly, enthusiastic. The chanting never ceased.
Nearby me, one Black woman was distraught with anger, yelling at white folx not to take over, yelling at Black folx “you letting these white people be louder than you.” I think some well-meaning whites, trying to keep up the vigor of chanting, had in fact taken it over, rather than amplifying the chants of the Blacks in the crowd. Any time the chanting slowed or quieted, this woman’s cracking voice raised up, haranguing, passionate. I saw clusters of white folk glance at her nervously, then side step the crowd and move away.
We blocked the road, but it didn’t seem to bother the traffic. We passed two cars, stalled by the throng. One, an older white couple, rolled down their window and chanted with us. Behind them was a young Black man and his daughter – her smile peeking from the sun roof. He leaned against the door, blasting “Fight the Power,” as though he’d parked here just to DJ the march.
We reached the Picnic Grove for a program of speakers organized by Violence in Boston, with Tito Jackson, Brother Dee, and many others. I was far back in the crowd and couldn’t see the speakers, and could hear them only rarely. Another moment of silence, with visceral sobbing pouring out of people all around me.
The program ended shortly after 7, with urges us to disperse and go home peacefully.
Then things got interesting.
I turned around to see – leaning into the chain link fence behind us – a dozen police in riot gear. Standing at ease, if one can be at ease in riot gear. Such a visual can’t help but raise the hackles.
The crowd split out of the park – some broke west towards Forest Hills, another east to Blue Hill. I went east. We chanted, sang, in a joyous mood.
Suddenly ahead I saw blue flashing lights: a cop truck. The crowd surrounded it, chanting “I Can’t Breathe,” “Enough is Enough,” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” It was all well behaved, passionate, but determined.
Sirens behind me. Shouts and screams. I turned to see the crowd part before eight motorcycle cops speeding towards us. The man in front of me – between me and the motorcycles – his long dirty-blond hair spraying out behind mask elastics, refused to move.
Realizing he would be alone otherwise, I too refused to move, standing with him.
The lead cop turned his bike towards us. While driving, he actively veered his motorcycle toward us, daring us: move or be hit.
My memory like a camera roll – I can scroll through snaps of these moments. His scowl. His front wheel between the legs of Dirty-Blond.
The bike screeched to a stop – would have hit Dirty-Blond if his legs weren’t spread – and the cop hopped off the bike, screaming, all chest, into Dirty-Blond’s face, pushing him back.
D-B held his hands up and screamed the fuck back.
Fury behind a face shield. Two hands raised in peace. A gloved hand dropping to the belt to grab the baton. A woman screaming.
The cop reach for his baton when two other cops leapt off their bikes and grabbed him, pulling him back. A third cop walked down the row of parked bikes, silencing the sirens.
The crowd turned livid – hundreds of hands up, hundreds of voices screaming “Hands up, Don’t Shoot,” as the first little piggy took a breather and calmed down. We kneeled, refusing to give ground, chanting “kneel with us.” None of these cops did.
Within moments the moto cops returned to their vehicles to turn around and leave. The crowd delighted in making this hard for them, and cheered when the cops drove away.
Na na nah nah. Na na nah nah. Hey Hey. Goodbye. The thrill of a brief small victory.
My heart raced, my brain running film of that wheel nearly crashing into us. Of that scowling scream, of that hand on the baton. The spark that nearly ignited had come so quickly, so unnecessarily. Without warning. And with what seemed like intent from the police, who didn’t need to drive towards protesters to get them to move.
I walked through the Park’s golf course, back to Blue Hill Avenue, feeling good, even elated. I’d done OK. I’d lent my body and voice. I’d had a close encounter with violence but it diffused as quickly as it started. I had a story: I had seen how quickly and willingly the police would threaten and spur violence, but how the crowd wouldn’t be forced easily.
Eight p.m. Twilight falling. I reached Blue Hill Avenue with clusters of other sign-holding protesters nearby. Cars in all directions honked and cheered and held fists out of windows. Men taking bags out of cars asked “was it powerful? Was it peaceful? Do you need anything, brother?” The neighborhood was with us.
Two blocks from the park I barely noticed more blue lights – had I grown immune so fast? – until I really looked and saw, speeding towards the park, flanked by escorts: two Humvees, 8 vans, and two busses full of armed National Guard: dogs, riot shields, gas masks.
I filmed it, posting to Instagram and Twitter, to warn those who were still in the Park. I spent the next half hour, fretting, checking hashtags, walking to the park and back again – wanting to go, wanting to help, not sure if I would find the crowds or be helpful if I did.
From what I gather, the People marched to BPD headquarters, then to the State House, closely watched by soldiers the whole way. One woman drove into the crowd. I later learned two people were arrested – one of them a sometimes colleague. Otherwise, peaceful.
All night I felt anger, anxiety. Had I left too soon? Had I not done enough?
I know the real answer. I have not done enough. I did not show up soon enough.
We are a peaceful army, armed with signs, bodies, and voices. And we are fighting a literal army. Small victories add up.
But small victories are not enough. What then? Education? All the books you read and all the docs you watch mean nothing if you don’t change your actions.
Baby steps only take you so far.
One baby step is to go to the protest, sign or no sign. One baby step is to let the Black folx lead: add your voice to theirs instead of taking over. Stay present to witness the pain and anger of the Black folx around you – don’t make a sign saying “Black Lives Matter” then step aside when Black anger makes you uncomfortable.
We are so far behind. I am so fretful to take small steps. And I am fearful the smallest steps are too late.
We need to take a million baby steps, take them quickly as possible. For we are so far behind.
But I’m available. And I’m taking them.