By Aimee Ortiz
It was around 9 p.m. in Boston on November 24 when the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney announced that a grand jury had not indicted Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Less than 24 hours later, protesters and Mike Brown supporters decided to, in their words, indict America.
By 7 p.m. the next evening, the small green patch just outside Boston Police Headquarters in Roxbury was brimming with people. The group surrounded a pickup truck outfitted with speakers and a makeshift memorial for black lives that had been lost at the hands of police.
Beginning with a call for elders, organizers of #IndictAmerica, as the protest was called, lit 10 candles and passed them out, one for each life that had been taken. The elders held the candles and initiated a four-and-a-half minute moment of silence, just as the Brown family had requested. The length of the silence was dictated by the number of hours that Brown’s body had lain in the street after the shooting: one minute for each hour.
The end of the moment of silence brought a speak-out, where members of the black community were encouraged to stand up and speak out their thoughts and feelings.
“People telling me, ‘You’re inciting people, you’re this, you’re that.’ If Harriet hadn’t stood up, if Malcolm hadn’t stood up, if Martin hadn’t stood up, we would still be on a (expletive) plantation,” the first speaker told the crowd. “You better fight, because your freedom will not be handed to you. You have to take it!” she said as she stepped down from the microphone.
“We need to take to the streets,” shouted an impassioned young woman when she was handed the mic. The rally morphed into a march as hundreds of people filled the streets with chants of “No justice / No peace / No racist police” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.” The march’s first destination: the Suffolk County Jail. The protest also stopped by the Statehouse and Dewey Square, the former home of Occupy Boston.
Although the large crowds petered out around midnight, #IndictAmerica organizers said that supporters were still waiting to bail out arrested protesters.
According to Massachusetts State Police Spokesman David Procop, an estimated 1,400 protesters marched that night, blocking major roads like Massachusetts Ave. and a ramp onto I–93. However, a report from the Bay State Banner placed the number at between 3,000 and 5,000 people.
#IndictAmerica was coordinated on Facebook by Black Lives Matter-Boston, a local branch of the national group Black Lives Matter, which was created after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot unarmed black youth Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012. Black Lives Matter aims to “(re)build the black liberation movement.”
The Boston chapter began in August, when the national Black Lives Matter group put out a call for supporters to visit Ferguson. Daunasia Yancey, who is now the lead organizer for Black Lives Matter-Boston, reached out to Darnell Moore, the east coast coordinator for Black Lives Matter, and Patrisse Cullors, its west coast coordinator, to see how she could help. They asked her to coordinate a Boston ride.
Since then, Black Lives Matter-Boston has been to Ferguson twice — once in August and once in October. Each time, they brought skills back to Boston with them.
“The first time was an intentional call: one, for black folks; two, for black folks with certain skill sets; and three, for black folks with certain skill sets who were committed to doing long-term work,” said Yancey of the first ride to Ferguson.
When the group arrived in Ferguson, they joined an international community. Supporters and journalists from across the country and overseas came to Ferguson as the community waged its protests for justice.
“At our first gathering, Patrisse said something like, ‘In showing up here for the black community of Ferguson, you are all showing up for yourselves.’ And that’s something that has stuck with me throughout all of this,” said Yancey. “In showing up for Ferguson, in showing up for Boston, in bringing this work back, in being connected to what’s happening in Ferguson . . . all of that is the promotion of black life. It is an exclamation that black lives matter, and that is personal and political.”
When Black Lives Matter-Boston returned from its second trip to Ferguson, the grand jury was only mid-way through what would end up being a three-month evidential hearing.
The grand jury began its deliberations on Friday, November 21 at 3 p.m. before meeting again on Monday, November 24.
During this time, Black Lives Matter-Boston waited along with the rest of the nation for the verdict. They did not, however, wait without planning.
“We tapped into the Ferguson Response Network, where folks across the country and internationally started posting their contingency plans, because, again, we didn’t know when [the decision] was going to come out,” said Yancey. “There started popping up all of these day-of or day-after protests, so we signed right on to that and said that our protest would be the day after at 7 p.m. in Dudley.”
Ensuring that the Boston protests stayed connected with the Ferguson movement, Yancey and the BLMB team held conference calls with the Ferguson Action Team. The event took off and by the night of November 25, there were over 4000 people listed as “attending.”
“We were so happily surprised with how many people came out,” said Yancey. “I think that speaks to the fact of how many lives this situation is touching and how folks are feeling super connected and super energized around ending state-sanctioned violence against black people.”
Surprisingly enough, the rally-turned-march was planned all along — although the calls to “take the streets” came earlier than they expected.
“That was strategically planned. We know that the police are on Facebook and so we decided to keep some things to ourselves,” said Yancey. The announcement, however, came when the mic was freed up and some young women from Emerson called for action.
When asked what similarities Yancey saw in Boston and Ferguson, Yancey responded by citing Boston’s response to young black leadership.
“It felt super similar to me in that, when we were in Ferguson, we were coming from Boston and we were clear about following young black leadership. We were clear that that’s who was on the front lines, that that’s who we should be following and that we should be trusting them to know what to do,” said Yancey. “People were marching, we didn’t know where we were going, we got instructions as they came and we followed them. I saw that happen in Boston, which I was not expecting to go that way.”
And as for what Yancey had to say to the people who complained about protesters stopping their commute home?
“That is the point. It is a wake up call,” she explained. “You are not going to get home on time, you’re not going to able to go about your daily life and pretend that this isn’t happening.”
Yancey’s co-organizer, Seneca Joyner, echoed Yancey’s feelings regarding people’s complaints of the protests.
“If the real problem here is how uncomfortable you feel, you need to sit with yourself and think about which side of this fight you want to be on. But it’s definitely not going to deter us at all,” said Joyner. “If anything, that’s just proof of how good these tactics work. So keep up the complaining! We want to know this makes you feel bad ‘cause then we know we’ve done part of our job.”
Joyner, who joined Black Lives Matter-Boston after being introduced to Daunasia through a mutual friend, says that she has faced state-sanctioned violence since she was roughly 13 years old, when a police officer forced her to lay down the gutter and show her I.D.
“I promised my mom a long time ago that I would not speak to the police,” said Joyner. “Because she’s terrified. She’s terrified in the same way that I’m terrified now that I’m a mother.”
On the night of November 25, however, Joyner showed no fear in telling the cops what she thinks of them, repeatedly telling them over a megaphone that they made life mistakes. One of her favorite things of the night, she says, was seeing how hard the police officers were working.
“We had those cops running all over the city and that, for me personally as an organizer and as a citizen, joyed me to no end,” said Joyner. “They were so frustrated. The only thing that made me happier than the moment where everyone joined in on the demonstration was how hard those cops were working to try to control us and to try stop us and turn us back.”
The November 25 protest was quickly followed by another one on Black Friday. Shortly thereafter, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School students staged a successful walkout that shut down Massachusetts Ave. And, on December 4, thousands of protesters gathered at the Boston Common tree-lighting ceremony to protest in honor of Eric Garner, a black man who died after a white New York City police officer, Daniel Pantaleo put him in an illegal chokehold; a day earlier, a Staten Island grand jury voted not to indict Pantaleo. With more protests popping up each day, Yancey and Joyner were right in their predictions for Black Lives Matter-Boston: There’s more to come.
“We will be continuing to protest. We will continue to have public demonstrations, as well as uplifting black life in general in Boston,” said Yancey. “We are certainly committed to dismantling the system of state-sanctioned violence against black people while simultaneously promoting black life.”
“We’re not satisfied,” Joyner said. “The police should feel some kind of nervous way. We are numerous and energized and ready. We have more to do.”