Shattered glass on every sidewalk. Discarded loot strewn across the streets. And in the dead of night, a pandemic-era Boston has never looked more lively.
Protesters against police brutality marched again Sunday evening after Friday’s smaller protest ended in police use of pepper spray as well as 10 arrests and four officer injuries.
Sunday’s congregation, which spanned several blocks of street space, chanted and cheered as they marched from Roxbury’s Nubian Square to the Massachusetts State House. The two-hour trek concluded without incident — then things began to escalate.
It seemed as if the night was over when advocacy group Black Boston, led by three college-aged women who organized the event, asked the crowd to disperse and aid each other in traveling home safely.
But by then, the protesters, who stretched from the State House gates to Boston Common, were growing increasingly agitated. Behind the fence of the House stood a row of police officers in neon yellow vests, standing still and looking out toward the throng.
As chants of “F— the police” rose in volume, voices of those protestors hoping to de-escalate were rapidly drowned out by the voices of outrage.
Protesters began climbing up to the raised fence to face the police directly. Their shouts demanded that the officers kneel. The officers, however, remained standing.
Meanwhile, some protesters launched water bottles across the fence as a handful of others graffitied the steps of the House with green spray paint.
A little after 9 p.m., police dogs on leashes appeared behind the fence. Protesters from Downtown then streamed toward Beacon Hill: police had begun releasing tear gas and pepper spray.
No longer uniformly assembled, the protesting group now began to diffuse into small pockets throughout the city, with some heading toward the fog of tear gas visible in the distance.
“They need our help,” several people repeated to each other. “Does anyone have baking soda?”
Joe Swan, 33, was one protester who took a direct hit of pepper spray in Downtown Crossing. After receiving initial aid from a group of bystanders, he opened his eyes and headed back toward the direction he escaped from.
“They all standing there like badass and s— and we got all of these people behind us and they really didn’t, so they had to come out with the spray,” Swan said. “Right now I’m f—ing hurt but in five to ten minutes or so when I feel better, I’m going back to the front lines.”
Swan later said he ran multiple times into tear gas throughout the night.
Once the gas dissipated, a wave of black — the color that organizers of the initial event requested protesters wear — advanced toward the flashing lights of police cruisers, arms raised and chanting: “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
As Boston police, batons in hand, formed a line to block passage through a street adjoining Boston Common, protesters kneeled before them holding their handmade signs.
“Take a knee, show some respect,” they said, shouting. “Who do you protect?”
As the police line began retreating, these protesters followed, playing music on a speaker while continuing their chants.
27-year-old Emily Jarvis said one officer refused to let her return home due to the commotion at the scene, despite having earlier permitted two individuals who were “not of [her] pigment” to pass.
“I was like, ‘What is the issue, why can’t I go home… Is it because I’m Brown?’” Jarvis said. “And he was like, ‘Because you’re Brown.’”
Jarvis said the officer refused to give her his badge number, but she recorded it regardless after reading it off his badge.
“I feel in danger and I don’t want to be out here because I feel like it’s going to get crazy and I want to get away from the chaos,” Jarvis said. “And you’re telling me that I deserve to be in the chaos because I’m Brown.”
At this point in the night, around 10 p.m., the looting had begun. Shattered windows gave way to unorthodox entrances to stores both corporate and local. Those inside tossed products ranging from snacks to Nike shoes out onto the street for others to collect at will.
The City Smoke Shop, a local family-owned chain, was among these victims of break-ins and looting. Its owners were alerted from home when their alarm system evidenced the chaos at one of their shops on Newbury Street.
One of the owners, who requested to remain anonymous, said it took 10 years of “hard work” to open all of City Smoke’s current 10 shops in Boston. She said she and her husband grew up with next to nothing.
“We used to go through f—ing garbages to recycle,” she said. “That’s how much poverty we were born into.”
What adds insult to injury, she said, is that this neighborhood happens to be her home. She said she’s disappointed, because she feels as if protesters are using the death of George Floyd as an excuse to steal.
“If it results in this, then the protests are useless,” she said. “They’re completely nulling the whole process.”
Aside from the city’s stores and buildings, at least one police car burned, and at least one was wrecked by protesters who smashed its windows, tore its seats and ripped out the computer mounted inside.
Members of the Massachusetts State Police and National Guard were in formation by 11 p.m., blocking off some streets and standing scattered in small groups along others.
As the night rolled into Monday, the tumult began to wane. Streets were now filled with cars — mostly protesters heading home now that the trains had stopped running — and those few still weaving through the city on foot were likely either looting or seeking the adrenaline of a new commotion.
Come morning, the sun will shed light on a transformed Boston.