At least for the moment, the girl wants nothing to do with the crowd congregating in Boston’s Public Garden.
In a pink skirt with white polka dots, she walks toward a pile of leaves—her father follows, but the two are not here to play on this early Saturday afternoon. Out of the father’s backpack juts a picket sign, featuring a black woman’s face. “Renisha McBride,” the sign reads. “You are not forgotten.”
Dozens of signs like his rise above the gathering crowd. Rekia Boyd, you are not forgotten. John Crawford, you are not forgotten. Burrell Ramsey-White. Denis Reynoso. Michael Brown. All, at one time, victims of alleged racial profiling and police brutality.
With mild temperatures and blue skies, it was an October afternoon ripe for the city’s consumers to descend on Newbury Street—but the crowd gathered in the Public Garden, led by Black Lives Matter Boston, wanted to disrupt exactly that.
“We need to get the word out about racial profiling,” said demonstrator Ahalia Persaud, a student at Simmons College. Marching on a high-profile street like Newbury, she added, would likely bring strong attention to the issue.
According to the event’s Facebook page, titled “Newbury Street Shutdown,” the event was organized in solidarity with Ferguson October, a direct response to Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., in August, and the Black Lives Matter National Week of Action, which ran from Oct. 20 to Sunday.
Daunasia Yancey, one of the event’s organizers, called the crowd together with a megaphone. The faces on the picket signs gathered together as the crowd coalesced, and the girl in the pink skirt was nudged in by her father. Yancey told the crowd that the demonstrators should stay out of the street and march only on the sidewalk, should not enter any stores along Newbury, and should keep interactions with pedestrians brief and absolutely nonviolent.
On the corner of Newbury and Arlington, officers from the Boston Police Department had gathered, shiny motorcycles in a neat line, bicycles prepped to ride alongside the protest.
After the demonstration, Nina Coakley, a spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department, told Boston.com that the crowd had remained orderly.
“There were about 150 people,” she said. “They stayed on the sidewalk the whole time.”
Yancey divided the crowd into two groups—one for each side of Newbury Street. The girl in pink let her father pull her onto his shoulders, and the chanting began:
“Back up, back up,
we want freedom, freedom
all these racist ass cops,
we don’t need ’em, need ’em!”
Further downtown, a different march with the same goal was also unfolding. Dubbed the Intercollegiate March Against Police Brutality in a Facebook event, BC’s Black Student Forum had been invited by leaders of Northeastern University’s Black Student Association to join the march. According to Elyse Bush, A&S ’16 and director of community outreach for the Black Student Forum, Boston University students and people who were not college students also joined the march from the Boylston T stop to City Hall.
“We even had some people joining in as we kept on walking,” Bush said. When they reached Faneuil Hall, a number of the demonstrators climbed the stairs leading to City Hall Plaza, putting their hands up—which, according to witnesses, was Michael Brown’s final action in Ferguson—and facing the droves of people spending the afternoon at one of the city’s most famous tourist attractions. When much of the crowd stopped and turned to look at the demonstrators, Bush said that she felt an impact had been made.
On Newbury Street, the little girl on her father’s shoulders had joined in the chants as the demonstrators made their way through one of Boston’s most prominent commercial centers and police officers rode their bicycles on the street, keeping pace with the protesters. The sidewalk’s usual pedestrians were relegated to the curb, at least if they wanted to move in the opposite direction. The managers of some of the city’s most high-end retail watched the protest from storefront windows. People eating lunch outdoors lost focus on their food, reaching for phones to take photographs and videos.
The girl chanted on, nodding with the drummers and trumpeters who lent their music to the protest.
“I want a world where she looks at everyone she meets as maybe having a different skin color, but still having the same basic humanity,” said her father, Abe Lateiner, a white man from Cambridge. “Where she doesn’t learn to be silent, or become more of the oppressor than she already is by virtue of me being her father.”
The girl and her father marched on, their chants fading as the demonstrators continued down Newbury Street. As the girl’s skirt became a distant pink dot above the crowd, pedestrians returned unimpeded to the sidewalk, selectively perusing clothes on outdoor racks.
Featured Image by Alex Gaynor / Heights Senior Staff