On Monday December 22, a group of a few dozen Boston-area high school students walked out of class and met at the State House to protest police violence and brutality. Monday's walkout was organized by some of the same students as High School Student March on December 9. It was also one of the first protests in Boston after the Saturday murders of two NYPD officers.
Within hours of the news breaking of the tragic deaths, politicians, police union representatives and establishment media talking heads accused protesters, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama and of course Al Sharpton of having blood on their hands. Despite a total lack of supporting evidence or video, anyone who has called for justice or reform regarding Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Dontre Hamilton cases is being labeled as anti-police or as calling for violence against police. A Fox-affiliate in Baltimore even edited video of protesters to make it sound like they were chanting "kill a cop."
This is the context under which the students walked out. At every #BlackLivesMatter protest I've covered, the organizers make a point to tell participants that this is going to be a peaceful protest and to not instigate anything. At this event, the peacefulness of the protest was emphasized even more; don't yell at or confront the police, don't touch any cars or property, don't get arrested, and act responsibly. Failure to follow these guidelines would mean being asked to leave.
Given the increased tension nationally over the weekend, I wasn't sure what kind of response the students would get from onlookers during their march. This is one of the few mid-day protests I've attended with good weather (the previous high school student led march took place during a torrential downpour) and I wanted to pay close attention to the reactions from pedestrians and drivers.
There were many supportive people on the sidewalks around Tremont then on Boylston. I was kind of surprised by the number of older white people, fists raised in support of these mostly black and brown students.
What didn't surprise me was the response of the drivers stuck in the traffic. The students did an excellent job of slowing down their march and using their limited numbers to bring traffic to a halt.
It's hard to say that the negative responses were any more negative than at other events (someone did after all get out of a car and try to fight me once) but several of the angrier, white drivers did yell things about protesters being responsible for the NYPD deaths.
There were a few points during the march when I expected an irate driver to get out of his car and confront one of the students. During the whole even, a few patrol cars stayed behind the marchers keeping an eye on everyone but this felt more tense (at least to me) than other protests.
This is the only protests I've been to when I was more concerned about an out of control, angry, violent civilian and not about an overreaction from the police.
The preparation and planning for this event seems to have paid off. They printed approved chants and some of the more heated rhetoric I'd heard at other marches had been toned down a bit.
It was also clear that there was more adult help. Although, it was student led, there was guidance from community activists. About six adults marched with the students, helping to block or direct traffic and give advice about the route.
At a few intersections during the march, the students would make a square, standing in the four crosswalks while holding hands to block traffic. Because of the size of group, there were not enough people to block traffic by lying down (die-in). There would be about four-and-a-half minutes of silence for the four-and-a-half hours Mike Brown's body was left in the street and then the march would move on.
After marching up Newbury St. the back towards Copley on Boylston St. the march ended in front of the Boston Public Library. I had wondered what was going to happen during the holidays when many college-age people head home for the winter break. What I hadn't thought about was that there are going to be hundreds of energized, high school students also on break (but in town) to pick of the slack. The promised that this was just the beginning.