Radical Change: Peaceful Protests Morph Into Violence and Looting

While more than a handful of large-scale protests over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of some officers in Minneapolis have resulted in emotional, peaceful and moving exercises of Constitutional freedoms, several have also erupted into large-scale violence and looting after the official protest has ended.

That has been the case in the Back Bay, Beacon Hill and the South End over the past seven days – with the massive Sunday evening protest turning into a cavalry of lawlessness in the Back Bay and downtown not seen for a generation in Boston.

Sunday’s protest elicited thousands of participants that gathered in Roxbury and marched en masse through the South End up Washington Street. Neighbors there in the South End were supportive of the measure and many joined in the march. After passing through the South End, it settled on the Boston Common where thousands mourned and protested police brutality and the murder of George Floyd – not to mention the scores of black Americans over the years unjustly treated or killed during police actions.

Speeches gave way to a candlelight vigil outside the State House, and then a break-up of the gathering – which went off without a hitch, though there wasn’t much social distancing (which seems to be a forgotten cause now).

However, about 30 minutes after the break-up things went downward in the area of Temple Place and Downtown Crossing. Police clashed with a smaller group of protesters, and things got violent.

However, it seemed to calm down, but overnight madness erupted.

In the Back Bay, stores were looted in what seemed like a carefully planned operation, residents said.

As the violence was erupting on the Boston Common, residents – who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation – said large groups started swelling into the Back Bay on Boylston Street and Newbury Street.

One resident said it was brazen and there was no police presence for almost one hour. They would break a window with some sort of tool they had with them, then a group would move into a store and take everything, while a series of cars would circle around and load up the goods.

This happened over and over again at stores like the Ugg Store, H + M, Nordstrom Rack, Alex and Ani, Steve Madden, Alexis Bittar, numerous Copley Mall locations and the list goes on and on. There was even significant defacing of the Shaw Memorial on the Boston Common.

“There were no police able to get here and these looters were sauntering and marauding with shopping bags,” said the resident Monday morning. “They were giggling as if they were shoppers. They shot off fireworks and had fun. For those of us that still have to work, this is disgusting. I’m so angry. They’re not doing justice to the principle of George Floyd’s death…Even with the presence of the police and National Guard, they didn’t care and just defied them, meandering and challenging authorities while walking around with full shopping bags.”

On Monday morning, glass was everywhere and security guards had been called in to guard the exposed businesses from further loss – many of which have been closed down due to COVID-19 for months already. Board-up crews moved in and secured many of the businesses, making some of the most attractive business districts in the city look like Dodge City after a Wild West shootout.

One business owner at Steve Madden Shoes was sweeping up the glass from his store, which had been nearly emptied of all the shoes. He said it’s time for the police to better police their own.

“The reason we have all this destruction is because that man in Minneapolis was murdered by the police and should be tried for first-degree murder,” said Daniel. “These things have to stop. The police union has to stop protecting the bad apples. That is the real problem. I don’t blame the people for this. They are frustrated nothing has been done for so long with the attitude of the police department to the citizens. They have to stop treating people like animals.”

In the South End, popular Laced clothing store on Mass Avenue was also significantly looted, and owners posted on Facebook they didn’t blame the young people that perpetrated the crime. They said, in fact, they supported them.

“We value these young people and their lives more than we value material things that can be replaced,” read the post. “While we are saddened by the recent vandalism of our store, we are more deeply saddened by the loss of life that has led to this rage. We stand with the young people in their outrage and through our relationships commit to exposing them to longer lasting and more effective techniques in their fight for equity and humanity. This is not about Laced or any of the other properties damaged. It is about the loss of life which is irreplaceable and precious.”

In the South End on Friday night, May 29, the first of the protests took place at Peters Park. While many didn’t expect it to draw a large crowd due to the COVID-19 restrictions still fresh on everyone’s mind, it did bring hundreds to the park from around the city. That protest remained peaceful and was a demonstration of Constitutional rights.

However, once it moved, many in the protest focused in on the D-4 Police Station on Harrison Avenue. There protestors remained peaceful though taunting police who came out of the station. Once the crowd began to throw projectiles at the officers in front of the station, they were ordered to put on their protective helmets.

Soon after that, many protestors moved on to Roxbury, but a large group remained and squared off with police in a violent confrontation on the grounds of Cathedral Housing Development – though it didn’t appear as if anyone from Cathedral was involved.

There were 10 arrests in front of the D-4 Station, and none were from the neighborhood. One woman, Lilly Antoinette, of Somerville, had been arrested last year in a violent clash with police during the Straight Pride Parade.

Protest actions continued throughout the week, but none gained the violent momentum or looting in Boston that occurred on Monday morning.

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