Boston Mayor Marty Walsh gathered with leaders from the city’s faith community and Police Commissioner William Gross Saturday for a vigil in memory of George Floyd, a black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police this week.
In his remarks, the mayor called for thoughtful reflection and for action in addressing systemic racism and violence in the United States.
“Too often we all hear the news that another black man or another black woman has been killed,” Walsh said. “And our response is consistent — ‘I can’t believe this. How could this happen?’ But we all know how it happened. It’s a part of the history of hatred and violence that’s rooted in our country’s past and continues today through systemic racism.”
The mayor urged the public to study history and recognize that “this is reality.”
“For black Americans and black parents and black children, it’s a traumatic reality that has played out far too many times,” he said. “And it never stops hurting. We do not, and we will not tolerate that kind of brutality here in Boston. And will continue to take steps necessary to prevent it.”
Walsh said it was hard to watch in recent days as demonstrations protesting the death of Floyd turned violent in Minneapolis and in cities across the country.
“The theme is the same,” he said. “It’s about pain and hurt. And understanding and recognizing that.”
The mayor pointed to how Bostonians have “come together” in the last three months to battle the coronavirus and called for similar cooperation in addressing injustice and racism.
Bigotry and injustice, he stressed, must be ended with the same urgency brought in the fight against COVID-19.
“If there’s ever a moment to acknowledge injustice and recommit our nation to eradicating it, it’s right now,” the mayor said. “It’s this moment. This is our moment in time to make a difference, this is our moment in time to change as a nation. I take this responsibility very seriously, both as mayor and as a white person.”
Gross called Floyd’s death a “horrendous, cowardly act” and acknowledged the anger being expressed by protesters, calling for police departments to be led with fair and impartial policing focused on de-escalation and procedural justice.
“We should not, ourselves, our children, and our seniors that paved the way, ever have to view a video like we did that emanated from Minneapolis,” the police commissioner said. “As an officer knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck until he was calling out his mother’s name — that is not the way we police. That is not the way we’re going to police, and if we run into any incidents like that we will handle it.”
“We denounce it, we support the termination and we believe that all of those that participated should be brought to justice,” Gross said, speaking on behalf of Massachusetts law enforcement groups. “Because that’s what’s right. We’re taught right and wrong when we’re raised, and then we have to see this again and again and again? That is not indicative of all law enforcement. But those of you that think it is, we have to prove that it isn’t that way.”
At the vigil, neither Walsh nor Gross addressed directly the reported violent clashes between police officers and protesters in Boston on Friday night. Police said 10 people were arrested and four officers were transported to local hospitals with injuries that were not life-threatening. On Twitter Saturday, Gross disputed an allegation that his officers donned “riot gear” near the demonstrations.
“The officers after being attacked by objects thrown at them by violent protestors, were ordered to put on protective helmets, not riot gear,” he wrote.