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Boston demonstrators call for end to police shootings

Gathering on Boston Common part of nationwide moment of silence

Yawu Miller | 8/15/2014, 12:14 p.m.
Hundreds of demonstrators in Boston turned out to protest the Ferguson, Mo police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
Demonstrator Lutta Neely leads a chant during Thursday's protest.

Hundreds of Boston area residents gathered on the Boston Common yesterday evening as part of a national moment of silence to protest the Ferguson, Mo police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

The moment of silence was timed to coincide with demonstrations in cities and towns across the country against the police shooting and the violent crackdown on demonstrators by police from Ferguson and the St. Louis County Police. The officers deployed armored military vehicles and dispatched officers in combat gear to quell the demonstrations after rioters smashed storefronts in the predominantly black suburb of 20,000 people.

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Hundreds turned out for the demonstration, observing a moment of silence to honor shooting victim Michael Brown.

Police in Ferguson shot and wounded one demonstrator, used tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets on demonstrators and arrested two reporters. The reporters were released without being charged.

Correspondents for the Al Jazeera news network reported being fired on with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters.

Ferguson police maintain that Brown was killed after he lunged at an officer in his cruiser and attempted to wrest his gun from him. However, two of Brown’s friends who say they witnessed the shooting, assert Brown did not attack the officer and was shot while his hands were raised.

At the Boston gathering, demonstrators denounced the Ferguson police shooting as the latest example of a culture that does not value black men.

“America has a violent and racist past,” said the Rev. William Dickerson, pastor at the Greater Love Tabernacle in Dorchester. “There are white people and black people who don’t want to see us repeat that past.”

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Rev. Dickerson (left) joins demonstration.

The multi-racial crowd denounced Brown’s killing as well as the New York Police Department’s killing of Eric Garner, who died in July after police officers put him in what appeared to be a choke hold, then piled on top of him. Demonstrators held placards with the names of unarmed black men killed by police in recent incidents including Easton, Ma resident D. J. Henry, Oakland resident Oscar Grant and New York resident Amadou Diallo.

“We have a problem in this country when it’s okay to murder black men,” said photographer Suhayl Azan, speaking during an open mic portion of the demonstration.

Demonstrators also spoke out against what many said was the militarization of civilian police departments in the United States, which have received military surplus equipment as the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.

“Police are becoming more secretive about their practices and more militarized with their equipment,” said Carl Williams, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Massachusetts. “It’s not safe for democracy.”

Kade Crockford, also with ACLU Massachusetts, noted that Boston Police have received funding and equipment from the Department of Homeland Security that now allows them to scan crowds at demonstration with facial recognition software.

“They share information with federal agencies,” Crockford said, citing a Dig Boston report.

A small contingent of Boston officers stood at the rear of the demonstration Thursday. While the gathering was peaceful, the rhetoric was at times combative.

Speaking on the open mic, one demonstrator, who identified himself as “Country,” told police, “do your job and stop f---ing with us for no God-damned reason.”

Demonstrator Dorotea Manuela said the images of police officers in military garb aiming high-powered rifles at unarmed demonstrators have underscored a new reality in the U.S.

“I think we’re going from conservatism to fascism,” she said. “Police are supposed to protect and serve people. Now they’re just protecting property. They’re here to keep people in check.”