Last Thursday, the first formal memorial service for George Floyd was held in Minneapolis. The National NAACP called for eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence–the total time Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck before he passed out and later died.
In Floyd’s memory Mayor Martin Walsh, and other city officials, participated in the silent protest to Floyd’s murder.
Prior to Floyd’s memorial, Walsh gave an impassioned speech during his daily press briefing.
Holding back no punches, Walsh addressed Floyd’s death head on, the subsequent protests, and brief rioting that occurred in Boston, and the emotional toll Floyd’s death has taken on many here and around the world.
“Here in Boston, Mr. Floyd’s murder has caused real pain and it has brought out real pain that has existed for a long time,’ said Walsh. “I want to thank the many thousands of people who have come out to honor George Floyd and take a stand against racism: on Boston Common, in Franklin Park, and across the city over the last few days. We’ve seen many examples of connection and compassion. We’ve seen protestors looking out for each other. We saw leaders in the community guiding young people to express themselves safely. We saw police officers taking a knee in solidarity. It made me proud to be the Mayor and proud to be a Bostonian.”
Walsh said now, more than ever, there needs to be change.
“We are seeing disturbing scenes across the country, and we are hearing disturbing messages from Washington,” said Walsh. “In Boston, we are keeping our historic public spaces safe for free speech, and we are listening, I am listening, to the voices and the message of our Black neighbors who are harmed by systemic racism every single day.”
Walsh said for elected officials like himself it is time to ‘listen’.
“As elected officials, it’s a time to listen and learn and keep those voices at the center of the conversation — not just for today, not just for the next week, not just the month, but for our entire careers,” he said. “It’s also a time to roll up our sleeves, work together — that’s all of us, working together — and get some real work done. I am committed to making real change. I pledge my continued commitment to making Boston a national leader in healing the wounds of our history and building a more just future.”
Walsh addressed the rioting that occurred in Boston two Sundays ago. While it was tough to watch, Walsh said the rioting did not shake his Administration’s resolve.
“Sunday night was a tough moment, but this is a good week for our city,” said Walsh. “We cleaned up and we are helping small businesses get fixed up. We continue to listen to our Black community and push for equity and justice in all that we do. We continue to fight this virus with every ounce of energy we have. We continue to support the residents of Boston through this crisis, with food, with financial relief, with health and safety advice, and whatever else it takes. All this work is making us a more connected city and a more resilient city. I am more confident than ever that we will come out of this a stronger, healthier, and more equitable city.”
Walsh added that City Hall does not operate in a vacuum and that his staff had participated in many of the peaceful protests that occurred after Floyd’s death.
“Neighborhood coordinators from our Office of Neighborhood Services participated in the rallies and marches and helped organizers with a range of issues,” said Walsh. “Let me say that again: some of our coordinators from Neighborhood Services that work for the City of Boston participated in the rallies — not as city employees, as individuals. And many other people have in this building. I have been meeting with our Black employees and employees of color. I’ve been listening. To be quite honest, what I hear is heartbreaking. As a white person, you can and you should be opposed to racism. You can learn and understand how it affects people.
But when you make the space for people you know to truly open up, and when you really hear what a daily experience racism is for them, it deepens your perspective and it strengthens your resolve to be an ally and push for change. That’s what I am doing, and I encourage everyone who is white to do that listening. Listen to the black Bostonians who are protesting. Listen to your neighbors, friends, and colleagues of color. Resolve to be part of the solution.”
Walsh said when he first got into recovery for alcoholism he said he learned recovery is about changing the human being.
“I heard the Serenity Prayer a million times prior to that, but the Serenity Prayer kept me sober because the Serenity Prayer says it all,” said Walsh. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference. What we’re dealing with in Boston is about wisdom. Wisdom to listen; wisdom to understand. If you don’t understand right now, just listen.”
Walsh continued, “I’ve had many conversations in the last days with the employees from the City of Boston: Some are Cabinet positions; some are entry-level positions. We created a space where we can have a conversation. They weren’t talking to the Mayor of Boston, they were talking to Marty Walsh. They opened up, and I watched the reaction of their white colleagues. Some people honestly said — Department heads and Cabinet-level — “I don’t know what to do right now. I don’t know how to respond right now.” The response is: let’s just listen for a while. Let’s not give opinions. Let’s not criticize. Let’s not judge. Let’s listen. Because if we listen, we’ll be a stronger city for it. When I say this, I’m not lecturing anyone, I’m talking to myself; I’m talking to the press that’s here; I’m talking to everyone.”
Walsh said the images that we are watching are difficult to watch and while it’s hard to see our country be torn apart–our country’s had this underlying tearing for a long time.
“There’s a moment in time — and now is that moment in time — for us to address racism, address real change,” said Walsh. “What I mean by that is not just simply talking about a policy. I can talk about all the policies up here all I want, and say this is what we’re going to do. It’s about acting on that.”
Walsh went on to say that the U.S. has had a bad habit in the past of just ‘turning the page’ when incidents like Floyd’s murder happen in the country.
“We can’t turn the page,” said Walsh. “I was Mayor when there were riots in Ferguson. There were riots there and we had some demonstrations in Boston. I was worried something would happen but nothing happened so we turned the page. There’s been mass shootings across the country over the years and everyone gets up and arms for a while that we need gun reform but we turn the page. And then there’s another murder in Baltimore or in New York but we turn the page. We have a great ability to turn the page when something really uncomfortable comes to the surface. George Floyd’s death is painful to watch. It’s awful to hear his kids and his brother and his family talk in such a great way about him. It’s sad that he is not here. We can’t turn the page on that.”