Michelle Wu questions police tactics at ‘Straight Pride Parade’

The Boston city councilor said the heavy police presence set the "tone" for both sides.

Boston police officers use pepper spray on anti-parade demonstrators during the Straight Pride Parade.
Boston police officers use pepper spray on anti-parade demonstrators during the "Straight Pride" parade Saturday in Boston. –Joseph Prezioso / Getty Images

Michelle Wu has questions about the law enforcement strategy employed during the “Straight Pride Parade” Saturday in Boston.

In a series of tweets Wednesday, the Boston city councilor commended the majority of police at the event, but suggested their collective approach exacerbated the ensuing clash with protesters.

“Why did we need to have so many law enforcement officers in general & so many in particular with riot gear?” Wu asked. “My biggest takeaway from the videos & feedback is that this reinforces why militarization of police is harmful.”

The at-large councilor linked to a 2017 study in the Washington Post that found law enforcement agencies with more military equipment were associated with more civilians killed each year by police.

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Videos posted on social media Saturday showed hundreds of police in Boston using force, including pepper spray, to clear the mass of protesters from downtown streets when the parade ended. Police said four officers were injured amid the chaos and three dozen people were arrested, nine of whom were charged with assaulting an officer.

Wu noted that Boston police are trained on a “use of force continuum,” a standard that provides officers a guide for what level of force is appropriate for a given situation. She said that public safety relies on these individual judgments by officers, rather than the quantity of police.

Wu said that having so many police present — many wearing riot gear — set the “tone” for both sides Saturday.

“Having that many officers from all across the region, including paramilitary units from outside Boston, set a tone of tension/conflict for civilians AND fellow law enforcement,” she tweeted. “We need to understand how that decision was made, especially [because] 2020 won’t be the quietest of years.”

After watching “all the videos I could find,” Wu also said Boston city officials should look into the use of pepper spray. According to the Boston Police Department policy, officers should “generally confine” the use of incapacitating agents to situations in which it is needed for self defense or to defend another person or for when an officer “is met with active resistance.”

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“Our law enforcement officers face an incredibly difficult job everyday,” Wu wrote. “The vast majority of officers in the videos showed restraint, from what I could tell. The City should look into the usage of pepper spray—the short videos don’t show provocation & also don’t give all context.”

Wu’s comments come after Rep. Ayanna Pressley called for an “independent investigation” into the interactions between police and protesters at the parade during a town hall Tuesday night in Roxbury.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh told WBUR in an interview Tuesday that the city takes any allegation of police misconduct seriously, but also cautioned that many videos lacked context. Police reports filed in court this week described instances in which a few protesters behaved hostilely and sometimes violently toward officers, according to the Boston Herald.

Referring to the 2017 white nationalist rally and protests that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia, Walsh said the large police presence was intended for the sake of the counter-demonstrators’ protection.

“I’ll be second-guessed all day long, but, if somebody lost their life on Saturday, we’d be criticized for not having enough police protection out there and not having enough protection,” the mayor told WBUR. “Unfortunately, we needed it Saturday.”