Declaring solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, protesters shut down a major Boston interstate Thursday during the morning commute by locking themselves to barrels filled with cement in the direct path of traffic.
The demonstrators, who described themselves in a press statement as an ad-hoc and diverse "non-Black group of Pan-Asians, Latinos, and white people, some of whom are queer and transgender," say they organized the civil disobedience to heed the call from black organizations, including the Boston chapter of Black Lives Matter, for nationwide stepped-up resistance to institutional racism and police killings of unarmed people of color.
"Today, our nonviolent direct action is meant to expose the reality that Boston is a city where white commuters and students use the city and leave, while Black and Brown communities are targeted by police, exploited, and displaced," said Korean-American activist Katie Seitz.
The Ferguson, Missouri coalition Ferguson Action recently put a nationwide call-out for protests and direct actions, including a general strike, to reclaim the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in the lead-up to the federal holiday, and solidarity actions are taking place across the country. A pledge by Ferguson Action to "make 2015 my year of resistance to state violence against Black lives," furthermore, has already garnered thousands of signatures.
The organizers of Thursday's protest say theirs is one response among many to such calls, which have also taken the form of mass protests, community forums, and creative direct actions.
"We must remember, Ferguson is not a faraway Southern city," said Nguyen Thi Minh Thu, a participant in the Boston direct action. "Black men, women, and gender-nonconforming people face disproportionately higher risk of profiling, unjust incarceration, and death. Police violence is everywhere in the United States."
Thursday's civil disobedience took aim at Interstate 93, the busy highway that runs through the city, transporting tens of thousands of commuters on a daily basis.
At approximately 7:30 AM, over 25 protesters blocked the interstate at sites to the north and south of the city, in the southern location locking to barrels filled with cement that were estimated to weigh 1,200 pounds each.
— NikLuk (@Nikluk) January 15, 2015
At least 20 people were arrested, but not before blocking the morning commute significantly and grabbing national media attention.
Addressing the inconvenience to commuters, protester Shannon Leary told the Boston Globe, "Disruptions wake people up a little bit from their privilege and insulation. Things have to change."
"As an Afro-Indigenous woman I feel the effects of white supremacy on my people," said a protester, identified as Camille in a press statement. "Being involved in this action has shown me where the participants' hearts are at in the movement. Without collaboration of all people, no one can be free."
A report released last year by the Boston chapter of the ACLU warns that police militarization, particularly in the wake of the Boston bombings, is turning domestic communities into "war zones" and "unjustifiable force and SWAT raids against people in their homes most often target people of color and the poor."
The protesters note the problem dates back years.
"In the past 15 years," reads their press statement, "law enforcement officers in Boston have killed Remis M. Andrews, Darryl Dookhran, Denis Reynoso, Ross Baptista, Burrell 'Bo' Ramsey-White, Mark Joseph McMullen, Manuel 'Junior' DaVeiga, Marquis Barker, Stanley Seney, Luis Gonzalez, Bert W. Bowen, Eveline Barros-Cepeda, Daniel Furtado, LaVeta Jackson, Nelson Santiago, Willie L. Murray Jr., Rene Romain, Jose Pineda, Ricky Bodden, Carlos M. Garcia, and many more people of color."
"We mourn and honor all these lives," the statement continued.