‘You can’t destroy our city’: Officials condemn violent ‘attack’ on Boston after protests

BOSTON (WHDH) – Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Boston Police Commissioner William G. Gross, and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins on Monday applauded the thousands of demonstrators who marched through the streets and peacefully protested the death of George Floyd over the weekend but condemned the “unacceptable” actions of a select group of individuals who were “hellbent” on destroying vehicles, vandalizing historic landmarks, looting from shattered storefronts, and harming officers who were trying to protect the city from “burning to the ground.”

“The vast majority of the people that came out were passionate and they were peaceful,” Walsh said during a news conference at City Hall. “We saw all kinds of people who simply want to put an end to racism and make a positive change in our country.”

Many of the peaceful protests across Boston on Sunday lent a voice to the nationwide anger over the death of Floyd, a black man who died last week after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck as he pleaded for air. But when a march from Roxbury to the State House ended, and the darkness of night overtook the city, chaos ensued.

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“I don’t want anything to take away from what they [peaceful protesters] accomplished,” Walsh said. “But what happened downtown after the protests ended was an attack on those values, it was an attack on our city, and its people…It was frightening for many who were there.”

Fifty-three people were arrested during a night that left officers and civilians injured and brought more harm to many small businesses that have suffered through weeks of economic hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Police officers were hit with sticks, bottles, and fireworks. Cruisers were torn apart and set on fire. Stores were smashed up and robbed,” Walsh said. “Untold economic damage was done to businesses downtown, in the Back Bay, and other parts of our neighborhoods…Some of those stores have been hurt badly by the pandemic and are just on the verge of coming back.”

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Walsh noted that nine police officers were hospitalized and dozens of others were treated in the field. He said 18 bystanders were also taken to the hospital.

Many of Boston’s “most cherished” public spaces were also vandalized by rioters.

“Monuments to abolitionists, to Civil War veterans, and even the back of the Massachusetts 54th Regimen memorial was among those defaced,” Walsh explained. “That memorial is sacred to black Boston and to our country. This was the very last thing that our city quite honestly needed.”

Walsh reminded everyone that the black community is in pain and vowed to continue to push for equality and change.

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“We’re going to keep Boston safe so that Boston continues to be a place where you can make your voice heard. We want to protect that right,” Walsh said. “I’m asking everyone to respect our city, our community, and respect those who are protesting peacefully.”

Walsh asked those coming into the city from other communities and states to protest to not lose sight of Floyd’s murder and what demonstrators are trying to do.

“The action of some last night hurt a community that is already hurting more than anyone should have to bear,” Walsh said. “I’m going to do everything I can to keep our city safe but also I am not going to let that distract us from what George Floyd’s memory means…I want the black community to know I hear your message and I will continue to be your ally.”

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Gross, who spoke after Walsh, praised members of his department and the Bostonians who worked hard to keep the peace. He said 24 of the 53 people who were arrested were from outside the city and two were from other states.

“Thank you to the media for showing the world that the protest started off peacefully,” Gross said. “I’m very proud of our community stakeholders that led groups of young black men and women, and all of God’s children to downtown Boston to peacefully protest.”

Gross said those who showed up and trashed the city failed in paying homage to Floyd.

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“Unfortunately, individuals showed up not with a peaceful intent in mind, but with being disruptive. That’s not paying homage,” Gross said. “We applaud everyone who protested peacefully but others came hellbent on destroying our city…You cannot destroy our city.”

Gross thanked outside law enforcement agencies and the National Guard for helping his officers deescalate the violence.

“It was rough for a while out there last night as officers were attacked, and actually tear gas was thrown at us,” Gross said.

Gross said over 21 police vehicles were damaged, including one that was completely torched.

“This is not going to happen to our city and no one is going take over our city and burn it to the ground,” Gross added.

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Rollins expressed sympathy for everyone who was injured in Boston during the violence, which stretched into early Monday morning. She also mentioned that there was a report of one police officer who was shot at.

“Those police officers showed up to do their job. They were pulled in on mandatory overtime. We don’t know what their opinions are with respect to what people were saying or doing,” Rollins said. “We should never wish them harm. We should be proud that we have a commissioner in Boston who uses his voice to say that this is unacceptable.”

Rollins condemned the behavior of those who looted and took part in the violence, calling their actions “unacceptable.”

“You will be prosecuted and held accountable,” Rollins said.

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Rollins also spoke about the history of black men who have been murdered in the United States.

“But I will also say that buildings can be fixed,” Rollins said. “There are lives that were stolen and people that were lynched and murdered. They’re never coming back.”

The National Guard was out in full force on Monday night to ensure a repeat of Sunday did not unfold.

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