After years of simmering anger over racist behavior by Everett city officials, and no action by the largely white city government, it seemed the ground suddenly shifted on Monday. Two city officials resigned on the same day high school students staged an afternoon walkout and residents gathered for an early-evening protest outside Everett City Hall.

City Councilor Anthony DiPierro and Deanna Deveney, spokesperson for Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, resigned a little over a week after their racist comments recorded in a private Zoom meeting were made public. DeMaria announced the resignations in a statement yesterday, an hour before Everett High school students walked out of school in protest over the racist behavior and lack of accountability from city officials.

The resignations came as a surprise to some in the city where people of color now make up more than half the population. Paula Sterite, one of the organizers of the residents’ rally, said people “finally feel like they were heard.” But she added that the resignations were “just the beginning” of needed action, an opinion echoed at both rallies.

“The problem is bigger than just two people,” Sterite said.

Residents said it has taken several years for anger over the issue of racism in Everett to coalesce into protest. More than a dozen residents interviewed by GBH News over the past several months repeatedly cited fear as a reason for not speaking out against the mayor and other city officials. Sterite, who is white, called it the “six degrees of intimidation.”

Guerline Alcy, a Black former City Hall employee, wants officials to take steps to root out an “overall culture of racism and inequity” in Everett’s city government.

“We win when we come together as a community, we win when we speak up against injustice, we win when we speak up against racism,” Alcy told the crowd. “It’s time for them to listen to us, we pay their salaries, we put them in that building.”

Everett Schools Superintendent Priya Tahiliani addresses the crowd in front of City Hall during Monday evening’s protest.
Liz Neisloss GBH News

Everett Schools Superintendent Priya Tahiliani, who had previously called for DiPierro’s resignation, said Everett needed “systemic change” and urged residents to keep up their fight against racism. Tahiliani, who is Indian American, filed a complaint in January against the mayor alleging a pattern of discriminatory behavior and a “racist agenda” in a school district with more than 80 percent students of color.

Public outrage began mounting in March, when DiPierro first came under fire for sharing a racist meme. At the time DeMaria publicly condemned the action but added he’d seen similar racist behavior from other elected officials.

The leaked video, reviewed by GBH News and first reported by The Boston Globe just over a week ago, shows city officials including DiPierro and Deveney making racist comments when discussing how Everett officials might improve their image after allegations of racism. A former city councilor suggests Deveney could hire a “Haitian boyfriend.” Deveney then suggests that DiPierro could bring “one of your dark friends” to an event. DiPierro replies, “I don’t have a lot of those friends.”

Several hundred Everett High School students walked out of school midday Monday and wended their way through city streets to protest in front of City Hall. In the wake of the resignations, they shifted their calls to demand an end to racism in their city and more diversity in city government.

Everett Elderly couple protest sign.jpg
Everett Residents Michael and Jarrett Russo at Monday's rally in front of Everett City Hall.
Liz Neisloss GBH News

“We want more people of color on their seats, we want them to resemble us, we want them to make choices on our behalf. Because if we have all white members, they’re not going to represent the people of Everett,” said 16-year-old Lornisha Cazeau, a Black student who helped organize the walkout.

80-year-old Jarrett Russo, who is white, sat on a bench in front of City Hall Monday evening holding a protest sign. “The mayor has a reputation for getting back at people,” she said. “Once you have that fear in people, you don’t have to do much.”

DeMaria denied his office retaliates against residents who speak out in a statement emailed to GBH News in March.

“There are state laws, regulations and local ordinances that are intended to protect public health and safety in Everett,” the mayor wrote. “The City holds every private citizen and business owner accountable.”

DeMaria previously defended DiPierro, telling the Globe that he believes in second chances. The Globe also reported that the mayor had seen the video showing DiPierro and Deveney's comments weeks before it was publicly reported.

DiPierro apologized for his actions in a Facebook post Monday announcing his resignation.

"My actions have clearly hurt a city that I love," DiPierro wrote. "I take full responsibility for my actions, and encourage others who participated in this hurtful, insensitive banter, to also do the right thing and step down from their positions in city government."

His seat will be filled by Darren Costa, who came in second against DiPierro in November, until the next elections for City Council in 2023.

Deveney referred questions about her resignation back to City Hall.

Karen Dean, a white resident who owns a multi-family home in the city, said the protest Monday empowered her to speak out. She said in the past she was worried that if she criticized the mayor she’d be cited for code violations.

“It doesn’t matter now,” said 76-year-old Dean. “This is important and we shouldn’t live with that bigotry. Nobody should.”

This article includes previous reporting from GBH News.