The image that will stick with me the most from last night’s protest in Boston came as we were marching on Washington Street through the South End on our way to the State House. At various points along the 2.7-mile journey from Nubian Square to the Boston Common, the tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators stopped to chant messages demanding racial justice, and cheer on front-line health care workers watching from hospital windows. During one of these stops, a man sitting on his apartment balcony above the proceedings unfurled a Pride flag, and starting waving it back and forth. At that moment, the collective attention of the group turned towards the rainbow, and the streets began to fill with the sound of cheering and applause. It seemed like the entire city was standing together, bonded in our rejection of hate and determination to create a better future.
Like many millennials, I have spent the last three-and-a-half years caterwauling about the Trump Administration’s bigotry and cruelty. But up until last night, almost all of it was done from the confines of a radio studio or my Twitter feed. In other words, I talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk.
Obviously, taking part in one demonstration does not mean much in isolation. A collection of young activists called Black Boston organized the event, and did everything from direct traffic to hand out water and refreshments along the route. I am just one white face, who has never experienced anything in the form of discrimination or hardship.
I can’t fathom where I would be without my privilege. If I were black, maybe the one night a police officer caught my friends and I smoking marijuana in a parked car near the high school would’ve ended in my arrest, rather than a stern reminder to go home. Maybe my two-hour stay at the police station after getting caught drinking as a teenager at a Dave Matthew’s Band concert would’ve turned into a life-altering event, rather than something I joke about. Every day, I benefit from my privilege, and that’s not even including my financial safety net. In the U.S., the net worth of a typical white family is ten times higher than that of a black family. To use a sports analogy, being born white in America is the equivalent of being born in the red zone. In most cases, you only need to go a few yards to score.
Anybody who’s thinking in good-faith recognizes the nationwide protests are about more than George Floyd’s horrific death. They are about systemic racism and oppression, which has been a hallmark of American life for 400 years, and the coronavirus pandemic has exposed like no crisis in recent memory. Growing data shows communities of color are being disproportionately ravaged by the coronavirus. African-American deaths from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater than would be expected based on their share of the population, and Latinx people test positive for the virus at rates higher than would be expected based on their share of the population in all but one of the jurisdictions reporting Latinx ethnicity data. The disparity is stark in my home city, where African-American and Latinx people make up 63 percent of known cases, despite comprising only 45 percent of the population.
Economically, the pain is also being more heavily shouldered by people of color. As of last month, just 12 percent of black and Latinx business owners who applied for the Payment Protection Program (PPP) reported receiving what they asked for, the New York Times reports.
We are an unjust nation, and the coronavirus has only added to our gross inequities. That is the backdrop to these massive protests, which have sprawled up in every major city across the country.
Like many other demonstrations, the Boston protests turned violent late Sunday night, with widespread looting and destruction of property. The opportunistic anarchy is odious, and only perpetrates further damage to our cities. That is the uniform belief among my friends with whom I marched, and the vast majority of demonstrators. Throughout the entire walk, I only saw a handful of police officers, and they were standing on the side with their bicycles and regular uniforms. The worst behavior I witnessed was one man jumping on top of parked cars, hopping from one to another.
At one point, two Boston cops took a knee in front of protesters, and proceeded to shake their hands.
WATCH: Two BPD offices take a knee infront of protestors, engaging in a peaceful dialogue about the chaos. After the convo, they shook hands with everyone. State police maintained formation continue to tell protestors to leave #BostonProtests #protests2020 pic.twitter.com/6ORWvI039C— Jake Epstein (@jakepstein97) June 1, 2020
Those are the visuals I will take away from my experience at the Boston protests, and what they were all about. But you will not see that viewpoint reflected in a lot of the mainstream media coverage. That is another reason why we need more diversity in newsrooms, where 77 percent of employees are white, according to Pew Research. Even the news coverage about protests against racial injustice highlight the inequities in our society.
If I did not take part in the demonstrations Sunday, my perspective would likely be a little different. That is why I wanted to go: to experience the moment myself. There is probably a near uniform correlation between those fixating on the looting, and those who have only experienced the protests through cable news.
I do not want to be caught eating brunch while history marches by. And judging by my social media feeds, almost every person with whom I’ve ever socialized feels similarly. Thot pictures have been replaced by messages about donating to black causes and ways to peacefully organize. In the LGBT community, we know the power of allyship. I want to reoripcate the favor more meaningfully.