Boston BLM Protest | June 1, 2020
by: Samuel J. Hyun
June 1, 2020 // Boston, MA
I have a lot of thoughts about participating in the protest yesterday. I also want to make it clear this is the perspective as an Asian American male.
The protest, was incredibly powerful and the amount of love and desire for change was impossible to not have reverberate through your entire body. From the speeches given by the organizers, to the actions of the fellow marchers. A nurse was walking through the crowd handing out gloves and hand wipes, others stood along the way giving out water. It was beautiful.
You saw people from all walks of life and backgrounds. Young, old, multi-generations of family, friends. Everybody from every community came out in support of the Black community. As we started to march, the initial unease and tensions that may have existed melted away and were replaced with overwhelming emotions fueling thousands of people to march from Nubian Square in Roxbury to the Massachusetts State House. Let me assure you, it is not a short walk.
We held signs, we shouted, we cheered, we cried. Seeing the faces of so many black people and seeing just how much this meant brought tears to my eyes then and tears to my eyes now. It was undeniable the pain they are feeling right now. We also witnessed the rise of young black leaders. Using the microphone to weave personal stories into speeches that I couldn’t help but think past generations of civil rights leaders would’ve been proud.
As we marched through the South End, I remember an older white woman, hanging a large Black Lives Matter sign from her window. It was so obvious she was grieving from the pain suffered by the Black community, and waved the sign with all her strength. She may not have been marching, but her spirit was there to help guide us.
As we descended towards our goal and crossed through Chinatown, we were met by another couple thousand marchers. We passed by BMC healthcare workers and we all erupted in cheers, showering them with our gratitude and love. Seeing the tears in their eyes and the conversation we had without actual conversation will be one we all never forget. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. We love you”.
When we nearly reached our destination, we stopped to address the media. Organizing leaders demanded action. They made specific requests. They even asked the media to make a pledge to not use these images for their gain, but to accurately portray the march for what it was. A peaceful, non-violent, march for change. It felt like while they were asking the photographers, they were really asking white people. The hesitancy to step up is something I vividly remember.
So when it came time for other communities to address the crowd. I made my way to the front, and asked if I could say a few words. Fully prepared to be rebuffed, instead, the leaders immediately agreed and gave me permission to speak.
My words were brief, but I said, Asian Americans have been silent for too long. Asian Americans will no longer be silent. Asian Americans cannot leave the Black communities to fight alone. We cannot let the model minority myth keep us down, but black and brown people down even further anymore. That we will join to fight.
Once we made it to the State House, it was mixed emotions for me. Here I stood, protesting outside the walls, where for almost 5 years, I had stood from outside the balcony of the governors office, watching various protests. Here I was, kneeling, yelling, “Hands up. Dont shoot”, knowing full well, as an Asian American, I get treated exponentially different by the law than black and brown people. But I needed to be there. I had to stand and march, using my privilege to be an ally.
Towards the end, you could feel the energy shift. Water bottles were chucked from the crowd towards the State Police. It was immediately shouted down and shut down by our side. Let me also be clear, most of the bottle throwers and agitators, were not black protesters. They were mostly white, with some Latinx young men. I personally, didn’t see anybody else throw anything.
Once the protest was over, the crowds dispersed and it was obvious we were walking right into a very tense situation. The police were all gathered and prepared to engage. This is where it gets complicated. Let me be very clear, this is purely from what I saw. What I say next is from only my levels of involvement and proximity to what occurred.
As the crowds turned to leave, most of the crowd needing to go through Downtown Crossing to go home, were blockaded by police. In what I felt was an incredibly stupid and antagonizing move, a cop vehicle, tried to make its way through the crowd on the street. Not at all trying to hurt anybody, but with the sirens on at the worst possible time. That was when the bottles began to really shower down. It had begun.
Now, teens were right up in the faces of the officers. Unleashing years of pain, trauma, and anger. I stood by to make sure the cops didn’t start beating them, ready to step in between and protect the young ones. But to the credit of the officers I saw, they maintained composure for the most part. It can’t be easy to stand there and be screamed at, but how can anybody not understand why the black teens are so angry. Nobody values or listen to them. They’re constantly reminded that their lives don’t matter.
At some point, I witnessed a line of black teens standing with their hands up, facing the cops. But I also saw mostly white teens rushing up from behind and hurling objects at the cops and then running away. It was disgusting. They were intentionally providing police with the justification to attack the black teens who were trying to make a statement. That was when I experienced being tear-gassed for the first time.
As I made my way through Downtown Crossing, the crowd started retreating as a few white male cops started shoving and using batons to swing a few times. One black photographer fell, so I ran to cover him. I was able to get him on his feet and get him back to safety.
At one point, I saw a young black teen moving to break the window of a clothing store. As he was about to kick, I yelled, “Yoooo, chill out! Chilllll!” He turned and that was when I realized he was holding a hammer. He stepped towards me, slowly raising the hammer and asked if I owned the store. “No, but brother, don’t give them a reason to take your life today. Don’t let them kill you over this”.
In that moment, I saw the fury leave his eyes, replaced with reality and the innocent young man that he truly was. This young man wasn’t a bad kid, or a thug. He was angry, he didn’t feel valued. He wanted to be seen. Before I could say anything else, he turned and left. Crisis averted.
The media has been portraying the looting as done by only black folks. Let me assure you that in Boston, that is not true. It was a mixture of white folks and black folks from what I saw. But the ones who had most of the stolen goods were white people. The ones who were smashing cop cars were mostly white kids. I can only tell you what I saw, and this is what I witnessed.
I am heart broken that this is the story that is going to be told. That the peaceful nature of the protest will be ignored, for the destructions brought upon the city at night. I am so heart broken, as I saw my city become another headline of pain, not one only of hope.
But let’s be very clear, I hate that the looting happened. Seeing what happened to Chinatown and other immigrant small businesses makes my blood boil. But I also can’t blame the anger from over 400 years of systemic racism. But I can get furious at the non-black people using this as a way to unleash their bullshit of fulfilling this fantasy of anarchy. They are a disgrace.
So please, for those who did not attend, I hope this provides insight on what really happened. Be careful reading what the news says. Be wary of only watching the clips of the destruction. So much good came from the protest and so much good can come from the aftermath. But that can only happen if we listen to the cries and decide as a country that change must come.
Stand strong, stand together, speak up, speak out. Much love to everyone ❤️