MIRA DONAHUE/SAGAMORE STAFF
Hundreds of Brookline students, families and neighbors flooded Beacon Street on Friday, June 5 in alignment with the Black Lives Matter movement. Chanting, cheering and passion filled the air to bring attention to racial injustices within Brookline itself.
“Wake Up Brookline” marched from Cleveland Circle to Amory Park in a peaceful demonstration to honor victims of racial injustice, followed by a spontaneous extended march to Town Hall and the Brookline Police Department. Planning for this march began 2 days prior when Brookline resident Lexi Harriman responded to a tweet expressing the need for protests in gentrified communities. According to Harriman, flyers were made, word spread quickly and the turnout was bigger than anyone expected.
“I hope that knows now that the hush-hush narrative is over. We’re here and we’re not going to leave until our voices shake the earth,” Harriman said.
The march moved through Brookline as neighbors chanted and clapped. Cars along the way honked, the MBTA slowed down to follow the march and rang their bells and Trader Joe’s employees handed out water to protesters. The Brookline Fire Department also stood outside their station in support of the rally and Black Lives Matter cause, said Brookline Fire Chief John Sullivan.
Protesters filled half of Amory Park to listen to black organizers speak and hold a moment of silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the exact amount of time George Floyd was pinned by a white Minnesotan police officer, leading to his death.
Co-organizer, Ashanti Syed who graduated BHS in 2016, said she and her friends’ experienced racism in BHS and at the hands of the Brookline Police Department.
“People need to know that in places like Brookline, though, it’s very silenced. There is institutional racism that is experienced. Brookline prides itself on the diversity of the town, but it’s only diverse once we give up our blackness,” Syed said.
One protester, Ramon Cruz, said that there had hardly been any police along the march route. Cruz said this was the calmest protest he had been to in the Boston area.
“There has been no violence here because there are no cops here,” Cruz said. “This is the calmest protest I’ve been to and that clearly is associated with the of police at this march compared to the other ones where they showed up in riot gear.”
This quickly changed when protesters decided to march to Brookline Town Hall, where they encountered Boston and Brookline Police standing behind metal barricades surrounding the precinct. The protesters grew angry chanting “F— the Police State”, “America was never great” and “Quit Your Job” while protest organizers attempted to keep relative peace between the protesters and yellow-vested police.
The crowd shifted to the library parking lot entrance where 15 unnamed and untagged officials in full riot gear were stationed. The protesters then asked them to leave the area.
“We’re not here to be against you, but we don’t trust you,” expressed one organizer to the police.
A line of young white individuals stepped to the front to act as “shields” between the black speakers and the police. There was a de-escalation as riot-geared officials were told to retreat and Brookline Police stepped to the front. In an interview after the protest, Patrol Officer Sean Williams said they were given orders to protect their personal police vehicles.
A peaceful dialogue opened between Black organizers and Officer Williams. One speaker, Jonathon Mande, the Founder and Director of Drums and Wellness in Brookline, raised some questions about the policies and training the Brookline Police Department goes through in order to combat racial injustices.
“Acknowledging the emotions alone aren’t going to drive the kind of change we need. We also need to be able to put them to the side and come up with questions that are logical, critical and analytical,” Mande said in a later interview.
Officer Williams stepped forward to talk with the protesters on behalf of the Brookline Police Department, agreeing with protestors that the justice system is not by any means perfect.
“Honestly, the whole bail system, court system, everything needs change,” Williams said. “Our protestors need to convince the people in charge, the representatives, that certain things are not right. There are systematic things that need fixing.”
The organizers called on the crowd to remain active in these protests supporting Black Lives Matter, before telling everyone to peacefully go home, reflect and make sure their voices continue to be heard until real changes are made.
“I can’t even express the love that I feel just seeing that the entire country and 18 other countries are participating in this,” Syed said. “It’s just beautiful and I hope that more people join in.”