As rain clouds threatened to break and thunder rumbled in the distance, Monica Cannon-Grant, a local activist and founder of social justice nonprofit Violence in Boston, vowed to stick it out.
“We're going to be out here regardless,” she said as a crowd began to form Wednesday outside a nearby Boston Police District station. “Black folks are dying in the rain, the snow, the sunshine, on a Sunday, it doesn't matter. So we have an obligation to show up not just for the Floyd family, but for the people in the city of Boston who get killed on a regular basis.”
Cannon-Grant gathered a crowd of roughly 100 people in Roxbury’s Nubian Square, calling for racial equity and the defunding of the Boston Police Department. Cannon-Grant's protest was one of several demonstrations held across Boston Wednesday as part of a citywide response to the conviction on Tuesday of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.
“Let's be clear, that verdict was not elected officials or district attorneys, it was us coming outside,” Cannon-Grant said. “We protested across this country and we showed up in numbers for a whole year consecutively. That is civil rights.”
The verdict should be celebrated, Cannon-Grant said, and should also come as a signal to continue protesting and fighting against systemic police violence.
“A whole year we've been protesting and changing the way that they handle Black people and deal with Black people in communities across the country,” she said. “I know you’re tired, but we can’t stop now.”
At a smaller event organized by Mass Action Against Police Brutality outside the Massachusetts State House Wednesday afternoon, family members of several men killed by Boston police shared their stories and called for investigations into those cases to be reopened.
Among those at the State House rally was Rahimah Rahim, who has filed a civil lawsuit against the FBI and Boston police over the 2015 killing of her son, Usaamah Rahim.
“We're going to remember him,” she said of her son. “And we're going to go out and we're going to make sure that these laws are passed, that these police officers do not get off with a qualified immunity when they shoot somebody or they make a mistake,”
She said she was happy to see that Chauvin was convicted.
“We're hoping that in Boston we can do the same thing." Rahim added. "We can. We're a great city, and [we] take care of our people here. And let's get the cops off the force that are not here to protect and serve us.”
Hope Coleman, the mother of Terrence Coleman, who was shot by police in 2016, spoke at the rally. Hope had called 911 seeking help for her son, who was mentally ill. Police said Terrence threatened them with a knife, which his mother disputes.
“If I’d have known they were going to do all this, I would have never called 911,” she said as her voice broke with emotion. “It should be someone that comes along with an ambulance. … They’re not authorized to handle mental health, and that's the problem in this damn world today — people overlook mental health disability. It’s time for some damn respect, instead of using bullets. My son didn’t deserve that.”
Around the time the verdict was announced in Chauvin’s case Tuesday, news broke that a Black teenager had been fatally shot by police in Ohio. Sixteen-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot four times in the chest following a 911 call.
Though the Chauvin verdict was celebrated as a sign of accountability for law enforcement, 16-year-old activist Hawa Tabayi of Salem told the crowd in Nubian Square that she found it hard to celebrate.
“What does it mean to celebrate, when Black girls the same age as me are terrorized by systems of oppression that are ruled and upheld by everyone else?” Tabayi said, as a downpour of rain began to fall on the crowd. “What does it mean to celebrate, when Black girls the same age as me are killed minutes before the joint verdict of guilty on all charges is announced? What does it mean to celebrate, with this entire system that treats Black bodies as labor and entertainment and denies us again and again?”
Nino Brown, a 30-year-old Dorchester resident, teacher and activist with the Boston chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said the protesters gathered in Nubian Square on Wednesday to demand the reallocation of police funds into community programs. They also want a thorough investigation into cases in which Black men were killed by Boston police — including Coleman, Burrell Ramsey-White — who was killed by police in the South End during a routine traffic stop — and Usaamah Rahim, a Roslindale man killed by Boston police who approached him for questioning in 2015.
“The police department's budget is astronomical,” Brown said. “Police budgets don't lead to safer communities because the police are reactive. They don't prevent violence.”
On Tuesday, around the same time the Minneapolis jury reached a verdict in Chauvin’s trial, Acting Boston Mayor Kim Janey released documents that showed that a Boston Police internal investigation in 1996 found “sufficient evidence” to support allegations that former officer Patrick Rose had sexually assaulted a minor — yet Rose kept his badge, moving up to become the president of the Boston Patrolmen’s Association years later.
“I teach, and I can only imagine a police officer just doing this systematically over the years and just being protected, which is exactly what we're against,” Brown said. “And no accountability, just being able to do whatever you want, unchecked, and even become the president after so many years of abuse. So we definitely demand that there be an investigation.”
Cannon-Grant says defunding the police department would need to be a “gradual” effort, phased in over the years to create more mental health resources and different response teams for emergencies.
“Boston police officers make a couple hundred thousand dollars a year to do what?” Cannon-Grant said to the crowd. “They’re too busy covering up child molesters.”
As the thunderstorm intensified, activists led the crowd to the Boston Police Headquarters, chanting the names of Ma’Khia Bryant and Daunte Wright, a Black man who was fatally shot by Minneapolis police earlier this month.
As the crowd arrived at the station, chanting “no good cops in a racist system” and holding signs reading “defund the police,” 16 Boston Police officers stood watch from across the street.
“They want us to commit to a peaceful protest,” Cannon-Grant said. “I’ll just tell you essentially what they're saying to you: 'We want to be able to kill you, and we want you to be calm about it.'”
Before leading the crowd back to Nubian Square and peacefully dispersing, Cannon-Grant left the group with a message — the work continues.
“Don't show up to the protest today, go home, check off the box that you marched with the Negroes, eat the cheese sandwich and sit down,” she said. “There's so much work to do in our community and communities of color across this state and across this country. Find somewhere to plug in.”
Correction: An earlier version of this piece misspelled Hawa Tabayi's name.