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A die-in was planned tonight, New Year’s Eve, on the streets of Boston. The demonstration was intended to draw attention to the deaths of unarmed Black men by white police officers who were not indicted by grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, and elsewhere.
Since 1975 First Night organizers have presented an increasingly wide variety of indoor and outdoor events on New Year’s, including performing arts, ice sculptures, parades, and fireworks. This year approximately a million people are expected to attend, including many families.
Despite freezing temps, dozens of activists lay down, pretending to be dead, in Copley Square, the center of activities for Boston’s First Night festivities. From 3:00 to 5:00pm, they held signs and chanted now familiar slogans: “Black Lives Matter,” “Disarm the Police,” “Jobs Not Jails.”
In addition, names were read of young Black men killed by the police throughout the U.S. Although the number of die-in protesters barely reached the 100 the organizers had hoped for, the impact was felt and the demonstration occurred without incident.
Although in Ferguson, Missouri, protests turned violent, that has not been the case in any of the Boston demonstrations for #BlackLivesMatter. Prior to the demonstration, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans had announced that the protesters would be accommodated, but that he did not approve of the demonstration in this family-friendly location, calling it inappropriate.
He urged the die-in demonstrators to not expose children to anything that would frighten them. Mayor Marty Walsh echoed that opinion, urging the participants to be respectful of families.
While heeding the Mayor’s concerns, the organizers of the protest stated that they would exercise their right for free speech, while remaining peaceful. Rather than blocking the street, they lined up on the sidewalk, outside of the Boston Public Library on Dartmouth Street.
One of the die-in protesters spoke out, saying that Black people have concerns about their children, as well. The concerns are about violence against innocent lives. Another protester urged the #BlackLivesMatter movement to be kept alive. The participants say they remain committed to the cause.
The intention of the New Year’s die-in in Boston was to counter racist actions across the country. In a recent interview with National Public Radio (NPR), President Obama said that the U.S. is “less racially divided” than when he took office. It may not feel like it because of the prominence of race issues in the news.
This morning, NPR followed that interview with one with Roxane Gay, author on issues about race, gender, and identity. She concurred with the President, saying that Americans are “just being forced to confront a difficult reality.”
Ms. Gay stressed that political change is necessary in order to address racism. She said that, while she is disheartened and weary, she is also optimistic that the “need for change will overcome weariness.” She spoke about the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and said that it was “hugely successful.” She said the problems are huge and there is more work to be done.
According to one of the organizers of tonight’s action, Brock Satter, “institutionalized racism and police brutality” continue. Until changes occur, protests need to continue, as well. The intention is to remain peaceful and stay within the legal rights to “petition the government” regarding the group’s grievances, and to “engage the public.”
Justice, “free speech and demand for equal rights” must be allowed to continue, said Satter. In order to “keep the conversation going,” protests are planned to continue until true change occurs. Tonight’s anti-racism New Year’s die-in protest in Boston is just one of the efforts. The group is working on a full week of activities before and during Martin Luther King Day.
By Fern Remedi-Brown