Racial Justice

Boston city councilor says pro-police rally in West Roxbury was ‘wrong approach’

"Black Lives Matter, and we shouldn’t feel as though we need to compete with that message or undermine it."

Dueling rallies last week in West Roxbury. Matthew J Lee / The Boston Globe

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Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley says many of the people who participated in a pro-police rally in his district last week had good intentions.

But he says they made the wrong decision.

“Black Lives Matter, and we shouldn’t feel as though we need to compete with that message or undermine it,” O’Malley wrote in a Facebook post Monday night.

Five days after the “Rally for First Responders” in West Roxbury led to contentious clashes with counter-protesters, the District 6 councilor wrote that the demonstration was the “wrong approach” in response to the national racial justice movement following the killing of George Floyd and other Black people by police.

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“I’ve spoken with many constituents who attended because they wanted to show their support for the good police officers whom they know and love,” O’Malley wrote. “They feel as though no one is standing up for these men and women who put their lives on the line every day. I get that. But I believe holding this rally right now was the wrong approach.”

I want to address the Rally for First Responders that was held in our neighborhood the other night. I’ve spoken with…

Posted by City Councilor Matt O’Malley on Monday, June 22, 2020

O’Malley, a white Jamaica Plain resident, said the country was “reeling from the death of Black and Brown individuals at the hands of law enforcement.” He also noted that Breonna Taylor, a Black emergency room technician recently shot to death by police in Louisville, was also a first responder.

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O’Malley said he didn’t doubt the sincerity of demonstrators who felt “they can be both pro-Black Lives and pro-Police,” but encouraged them to keep in mind the perspective of a Black person who felt their “pain and anguish dismissed by the rally.”

The largely white rally was held at the Centre Street rotary near a local West Roxbury police station, where Black Lives Matter rallies had previously been held. According to reporters at the scene, the crowd Wednesday swelled to hundreds as counter-protesters gathered across the street, leading to heated verbal altercations and competing chants of “Blue Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter.”

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O’Malley referenced several “disturbing” incidents during the rally; a pro-police demonstrator reportedly gave a Black reporter covering the event the middle finger and another spat on the window of Black driver’s car, according to WGBH.

O’Malley’s post Monday came after John Connolly, a former Boston city councilor and West Roxbury resident, said he was “devastated” by the “ignorant, insensitive rally,” which he said included a number of local police officers. In a series of lengthy Facebook posts last week, Connolly said he spoke to several Black neighbors who felt deep pain and “hopelessness” following Floyd’s death and said the rally “intentionally or unintentionally” exacerbated that hurt.

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“It was a disturbing show of political power to protect the status quo,” he wrote.

“You should be decrying police brutality, and supporting common sense reform of our police departments,” Connolly, who was a 2013 mayoral candidate, continued. “But you used your power in numbers tonight to define our neighborhood in a way that shows such tone deafness, such unawareness of Boston’s history, and such a lack of empathy for black parents and parents of color who have to have “the talk” with their children that white parents never have to have.”

In his respective post, O’Malley said he had heard from “hundreds” of constituents expressing pain in the wake of the renewed focus on police brutality.

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“Their calls for change are impossible to ignore,” he wrote, adding that there are law enforcement officers who “want to be part of that change.”

“We should reach out, listen, and be part of the solution,” O’Malley wrote.

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