City Parks and Back Bay Businesses Left in Ruins Following Sunday’s Riots

In the aftermath of Sunday’s protests over the death of George Floyd, the Boston Common, the Public Garden and the Commonwealth Avenue were left in tatters while the storefronts of many Back Bay businesses were boarded up Monday after falling prey to looting and vandalism.

“There was a lot of damage in all three parks.”

Liz Vizza, executive director of the Friends of the Public Garden, a nonprofit that helps maintain them in partnership with the Department of Conservation and Recreation, “but the biggest impact from graffiti was experienced on the Common.”

Thousands of protestors marched from Government Center to the Common, where tensions reportedly escalated at around 9 p.m. when the city’s curfew in response to the COVID-19 took effect, and police then met attempted to disperse the large crowd gathered in the park.

The 54th Regiment Memorial on the Common, which pays tribute to the first Northern black volunteer infantry unit enlisted to fight in the Civil War, was among the park landmarks defaced. Vandals tore down protective fencing and spray-painted graffiti on the rear of the monument, which is now undergoing an extensive restoration, Vizza said.

Elsewhere, the Alexander Hamilton statue on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall was covered in graffiti on all four sides, and the George Washington statue in the Public Garden was also tagged.

Sixteen trashcans in the Public Garden were set ablaze as well, Vizza said.

“When this happens, the community hurts,” Vizza said. “It doesn’t just hurt a monument or a greenspace, it hurts all of our hearts.”

By early Monday morning, the city’s Graffiti Busters and volunteers were on the scene to help clean up the wreckage left behind in the parks.

“There were dozens of community leaders picking up trash, and that was a beautiful thing to see,” Vizza said.

In Back Bay, rioters shattered the front windows and allegedly broke into Clarendon Wine at 563 Boylston St. at around 10:30 p.m., before making off with more than half the store’s stock, including liquor and lottery tickets, and damaging computers, the business owners told local news outlets. This came has yet another major setback for the family-run business that dates back to 1940 and had closed recently to assess its future in the wake of the ongoing public-health crisis.

More than three-dozen other businesses and commercial properties in the neighborhood, along with scores more in the Downtown Crossing area, reported they too experienced vandalism and/or looting overnight, according to boston.com.

Martyn Roetter, chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, described the events of Sunday evening as “quite appalling” and “utterly shocking and disgraceful” after watching them unfold on TV at home.

“Up until about 9, things had gone well, and the protesters made their point respectfully by expressing their outrage, but not by attacking city government,” he said. “It’s hard to tell exactly, but other groups came in at that time and created mayhem. Some also used it as opportunity to go into stores and get some nice stuff for themselves, and they did.”

Roetter said he watched in disbelief as rioters exited Copley Place and Concepts “carrying out loads of loot” and staring directly into the TV camera as they left the scene in cars with license plates that could be easily read.

“The looting on Newbury and Boylston streets went on for quite some time without the forces of law and order there to stop it and intervene,” he said. “People had hoped Boston wouldn’t go the way of other cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, so I think the mob activity developed more rapidly and widely than anyone anticipated.”

Even so, Roetter said the city reached out to him on Monday to not only to acknowledge the previous night’s events, but also to assure NABB and the neighborhood they are now on high alert to prevent it from happening again.

Despite the senseless actions on the part of some protestors, Roetter and Vizza both remain supportive of those who gathered on the Common and acted responsibly.

“The Common is our center stage of civic life, and we stand in solidarity in spirit with the peaceful protestors,” Vizza said. “We support their First Amendment right to protest injustice or what they want to speak about, and this is the ground where we have done that for generations.”

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