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Race, politics & protest in 2017

Mayoral race, racism in Boston dominated headlines last year

Yawu Miller | 1/3/2018, 10:26 a.m.
As the year 2017 dawned, much of America was focused on the incoming administration of President Donald Trump, who rode ...
Demonstrators make noise at the Women’s March in January last year. Lauren Miller

As the year 2017 dawned, much of America was focused on the incoming administration of President Donald Trump, who rode to electoral victory in the 2016 campaign with divisive campaign rhetoric and a vague pledge to “make America great again.”

Demonstrators march en route to the Boston Common to protest an alt-right “free speech” rally.

Demonstrators march en route to the Boston Common to protest an alt-right “free speech” rally.

A masquerader in the 2017 Caribbean Carnival.

A masquerader in the 2017 Caribbean Carnival.

Queens in the 2017 Dominican Festival parade.

Queens in the 2017 Dominican Festival parade.

Trump’s nativist, reactionary rhetoric and the release of a recording in which he brags about harassing and sexually assaulting women ignited a firestorm of opposition even before his inauguration.

On Jan. 21, nearly 200,000 Boston-area residents braved the cold January weather for a women’s solidarity march that was one of many held around the country and around the world. Speakers and marchers pledged their support for the rights of women, people of color and immigrants.

In the following weeks and months, activists’ fears seemed justified as the first iteration of the so-called Muslim ban and a seemingly endless torrent of divisive tweets and statements emanated from the White House. Locally, demonstrations followed in Copley Square and at Logan Airport during the abrupt roll-out of the aggressive travel ban, setting a tone of resistance.

While much of America remained focused on the White House in January, Bostonians turned their attention to another development that would come to dominate headlines: City Councilor Tito Jackson’s mayoral bid. Speaking from the parking lot of the Haley House Bakery Café, Jackson promised to take on some of the city’s most challenging issues: income inequality, housing affordability and educational investment.

“Boston is at a crossroads,” Jackson told the crowd of supporters, reporters and political junkies who braved cold temperatures for the announcement. “We’re at a fork in the road. A decision point. The middle class in the beloved community, the neighborhood that I grew up in, stands in the balance.”

Race issues and racism remained on the front pages of newspapers, with the discussion heating up in May when Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones was subjected to racial taunts during a game at Fenway Park, kicking off soul-searching and frank conversations about the nature and persistence of racial animosity in the ballpark and the city. In September, four fans were ejected from Fenway Park after unfurling a banner that read, “Racism is as American as Baseball” in protest of racial incidents there.

Jackson’s mayoral bid ratcheted up the tension on the Walsh administration, bringing forward equity issues and keeping discussions of inclusion and exclusion at the forefront. Over the course of the year, civil rights groups pressed the mayor on city hiring and governance. In June, the Greater Boston Latino Network released a report detailing lack of representation of Latinos in city government. While Latinos make up 19 percent of the city’s population, they represent just 9 percent of city workers. Of the six Latinos who hold executive positions in city government, five are concentrated in Health and Human Services.

In October, the NAACP Boston Branch released a report that found Walsh failed to keep his campaign promises to make Boston a more inclusive city, falling short in city hiring, minority business inclusion, school funding and community policing, among other areas.