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Last Thursday night several thousand people crowded onto the Boston Common.  There were visitors who came strictly for the tree lighting ceremony who bumped up against protestors carrying signs reading “black lives matter”. It was a surreal scene for some, with the sounds of Christmas music mixing with fury over questionable police actions resulting in dead black men.

Dominique Jones with five children watched as singers dressed as elves  danced on stage:

“I mean I know it’s Christmas time but voices have to be heard.  How do we explain this to our kids?  My daughter just asked me ‘mommy why are they saying that?'  It’s hard to explain to a five year old what’s going on in the world.”

I asked her if she needed to explain it often.

“Yeah, they watch the news each morning just like I do.”

But reflecting the racial and ideological schism over police and police homicides in NY and Ferguson some in the crowd were decidedly unsympathetic.

One man complained: “This is rude.  It’s the wrong venue.  This is for families, not for this.  It’s not going to make any difference.  You’ve ruined this tonight, all of yous.  And you’re not going to get anything done by it because it’s a fraud from the start.  And when I take my daughter to a Christmas thing I don’t want to deal with meatheads like this.” 

Moments later, the tree was lit and festive music filled the air, capping the end of a night of protest and celebration on The Common.   And then hundreds of multi-ethnic protestors marched along Tremont downtown, stopped traffic on the Charlestown bridge, and rallied in government center chanting “black lives matter”.   

As the Christmas tree lighting came to an end the demonstrators took to the streets and briefly blocked the intersection of Tremont and Boylston.  

Hundreds chanted “I can’t breathe”, the words uttered by New Yorker Eric Garner as he was forced to the ground by a white Staten Island police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, on July 17.  An autopsy revealed that Garner died from a choke hold, which was ruled a homicide.  But a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict   Pantaleo. 

Julia Owens, a bystander on Tremont Street, was furious about the grand jury decision. 

“I can’t breathe either and this is a terrible terrible situation.  And I’m glad to see that people need to give a damn.”

Hands up in the air and chanting “hands up, don’t shoot” some protestors marched to the Charlestown Bridge and briefly shut down traffic.  Police vehicles drove from location to location to both protect peaceful protestors and arrest a handful viewed as disorderly.   One man complained that a state trooper sprayed him in the face with pepper spray.  Some demonstrators marched to government center and others to the edge of the North End.  Narosemy August, a financial analyst, led one of the groups that splintered off:

“You know I’ve just encountered racial profiling all my life and I’m tired it.  It’s enough.”

Elizabeth Donahue was just coming off a nursing shift as the demonstrators passed through her North End neighborhood.

“I think it’s inspiring and hopeful that people care enough about something about America in 2014 to hit the streets and do something about it.”