Let’s get the cliché right out the way: it was just another cold winter January weekday morning in the town where I live, just seven miles from the center of Boston, Massachusetts. Wake up in the dark, get the kids going, make the coffee and breakfast, turn on the radio, start the cars up and tell the kids it’s time for school. An “I love you” here, an “I’ll see you tonight” there. Pull out from the driveway and head into suburbia.
My routine this week has been to take my son to middle school, while I play Dandy Livingston Radio, for the very simple desire that if I played reggae music in my car when the temperature was under 20 degrees, I could think more of beaches and less of why I chose New England in January.
Today was no different. Just check what I posted on Instagram around 7:40am, the moment I dropped off my son from school and gathered my thoughts about the work I had to do today:
About 15 minutes later, I posted this:
Let’s be real: I had no idea (not even close) that as a result of my wife kindly reminding me that we had run of out coffee and asking that I drive to the local Dunkin’ Donuts in East Milton Square before I start my day, I would witness a #BlackLivesMatter protest that shut down rush hour traffic from Interstate 93 South into Boston. Much has been written about it in local Boston media and global outlets, so I won’t get into the details here. You can read all that somewhere else, especially if you really want to know who these protesters are and why they decided to do such an action on Martin Luther King’s birthday.
This is all about what I saw from 8am until around 9am on the deck in East Milton Square and how people around me reacted to six protesters who cemented their arms into barrels filled with concrete.
It started pretty innocently. After seeing Milton police cars parked on the deck by the street light that takes you into Adams St., I thought it was just a local town fender-bender.
I needed coffee.
Right then I glanced to my right and noticed traffic on the highway. No big deal.
There is always traffic on 93 North during rush hour, even on the service road into East Milton Square.
That is, until I saw what appeared to be a person on the ground on the highway.
Wait, was this some major accident?
My clock read about 7:50am.
I still needed coffee.
So I parked on Adams and headed into Dunkin Donuts, where the store’s manager, a Muslim immigrant from some country I don’t know because I have never asked him, was laughing with two older Irish American (this is Milton, everyone is of Irish descent) about the fact that they were all going to Sunday’s AFC Championship at Gillette Stadium.
“Wait, you like American football?” one man asks the store manager.
“Yes! I love it! Love it! Best sport in the world!” says the store manager.
“Ha! That’s great!” says the other man.
And the three men —the two older Irish guys and the kind Muslim man who serves us coffee every day— laugh out loud.
Progress, I think, as I sip my coffee and walk out to Adams.
My wife calls. She tells me about the traffic, but she is ahead of it. Word is that there’s a protest.
That’s it! That’s what the guy on the ground is doing.
I run towards to I-93 deck and find a corner where no one is there yet. It is quiet. There are few people to my left, but I take my phone and start snapping pictures. (You already saw the first one.)
Oh yeah, take a video too.
I continue this for about an hour. In my little corner right between a fence to my left and the overpass to my right.
I see a local Boston news personality who lives just blocks from the scene. We smile. I tell him, “Nothing ever happens in Milton.” And he nods. He takes a pic from my vantage point and tweets it out. I figure Boston media people will start filing in soon enough.
Behind me, a young man quietly takes notes. I was guessing that he was a reporter, but I didn’t ask. Keep taking pictures, keep tweeting and keep taking videos.
Local friends who also do what I do for a living are also there.
This never happens in Milton. Nothing ever happens in Milton.
Soon enough, I had about 17 minutes of raw footage. (See around 15:30 minutes in, when a Boston firefighter caused too many sparks, and someone screamed.)
If you watch the whole video until the very end, you might notice that after I talked for a little bit, a local Milton police officer claimed I was leaning too far over the deck with my phone. The area I was working in was enough to get my two hands through with my phone. But that wasn’t good enough for the police officer, and once I agreed to move my phone back about one inch, he let me be. Other people, whether they were onlookers, bloggers or reporters kept asking if I could step out of my space.
“Sure, only if I could get it back.” I smile.
Meanwhile, as we all watched, this is what I heard:
“You f*cking a**holes!” from a car slowly driving past the protesters once state police allowed for a few cars to pass.
“They should just shoot them,” one very frustrated man in his late 20s mumbled near me as he peered towards the scene.
“I don’t get this,” another person whispered to my left by the service before the officer (yeah the same one who didn’t like how I was filming the scene) told her it was unsafe to in that area.
Others in the service road would jump out of their cars, take a pic and jump back in.
“This is crazy.”
While reporters did their job, the people I heard comment about the scene thought the protesters were dumb and foolish. For many of them who hadn’t seen the “END WHITE SUPREMACY” sign on the deck, they didn’t even know what these six individuals were doing or even what the sign meant. One thought he was about to see a terrorist plot due to the Paris killings of last week.
Look at that traffic. It’s tying up Boston! (Wait, is the HOV lane open?)
And when people begin to find out that this was about #BlackLivesMatter, the looks of anger turned into incredulity. Here? This is happening here in Milton? This isn’t Ferguson. Or Staten Island. Or Cleveland.
Bring out the saws and let’s clear these people out.
I don’t know if it was the fact that the space I had claimed for an hour was now being invaded by others who got there later or by the cop who thought I was breaking the law or the fact that my phone died, but I decided to leave around 9am. Milton wasn’t Ferguson, for sure, but you cannot deny the fact that “one side of town” is very different from “the other side of town.” And this is in a sleepy bedroom community that borders a city which still struggles with race, its ugly legacy and changing demographics. East Milton’s little bubble burst a bit today, and I could sense people looking dazed and confused.
What does Milton have to do with #BlackLivesMatter?
Throughout the day, I followed the story on Boston media, and by the time it was deep in the news cycle, the narrative was that chaos had ensued on I-93. People couldn’t get to hospitals. Commuters were stuck in their cars for hours. These protesters inconvenienced the lives of people and possibly endangered the lives of others they didn’t know. By noon, we received stern paternal lectures from State Police officers and politicians. Behave, people. Conform and behave.
And the traffic. Oh, the traffic. (Memo to all Bostonians out there: please let me know what weekday on I-93 or 128 or the Mass Pike is an easy traffic day.)
That was what the Boston media said, and I will say this: having been there on the deck in East Milton for over an hour, I had a different feeling. A feeling of peace. A desire for people to begin to talk with each other, I mean really talk to each other about injustice. We have no problem talking about the Patriots but when it comes to race, we have serious problems. As in, don’t even talk about it.
Now, would I cement my arm into a barrel in the middle of an interstate to protest a cause? I don’t think many people would, but that is not the key point here. Sure, you can spend time questioning the strategy used, but…
This… this is the key point.
Just read a few of the comments to the 17-minute footage video I uploaded today. Granted it is YouTube and the Internet, but you saw the video I shared. It was just trying to chronicle a news story. Yet that video still got comments like these:
“If these whites would live what they preach and move to an all black neighborhood, they would understand the harsh truth about race, and culture. They would never again preach equality!”
“I hope they kill em, it’d be darwinism at work.”
“why did they saw the cement off ?? 😀 just put them on a car, drive 100 miles in a middle of nowhere and dumb them there, let them make their own way back with barrells full of cement :D”
“Fine these douchebarrels for wasting tax payers money, unlawfully detaining the public and reckless endangerment for all the ambulances diverted. ALL LIVES MATTER YOU EFFING MORONS!”
“Should have poured 5 gallons of gas in that trash can and lit it.”
“it would have been better and quicker if they had just sawed their arms off”
“F•ck you and your n••ger ass protest bullshit! Die mother f•ckers im hoping they will cut his f•cking arm off. Kill yourselves”
“thy should have tortured them and kicked them in the head and balls”
“If you notice The cause is black lives matter, but the one stupid enough to stick their arms in cement are white people. If the first people in traffic to be hindered by them would have gotten out and beat the holy f•ck out of them it would not happen again.”
“Worthless s**t stains, living off of mommy and daddy’s fortune. No lives, no jobs, no concept of reality.”
“f•cking asswipes got me late for work this morning. I hope all these people get charged!”
“Run the nigg•s over. They are worthless POS. They don’t contribute to society but, take. They BLAME every WHITE person for their own problems when in FACT no father in the home proves their lack of respect for, law or fear of anything. They are ganster through and through. They have no reason to be here. Ship them back to Africa along with all the muzzies. YES, I AM PREJUDICE! At least I tell the truth! Assholes! Really, what does this do al sharpless or soros you F•CK!”
All these comments happened on the same day Martin Luther King, Jr. was born.
I don’t know where this is going or what will happen in the future. But I do know that if we as a society continue on this same path, we will never heal. It seems right now that this is more about power, accepting the power from those who hold that power and not rocking the boat because you know… traffic in Boston. Maybe it’s time for everyone to start asking why #BlackLivesMatter and try to approach the debate with more dignity and respect. Maybe people should realize that something just seems out of whack and disconnected.
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today – Ya
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today
Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on
Ya, what’s going on
Ah, what’s going on
This day started like any other day for me.
But as the day ends, this little Boston suburbia world got stunned.
That, quite frankly, can be a good thing if we just start to seriously question it all. Maybe that will lead to deeper interactions with others.
Yeah, maybe, but people still have to “go to work” tomorrow and no one wants to have the boss get angry at you.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. A 1990 Harvard graduate in the History and Literature of Latin America, his personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last two years, Julito represented the Rebeldes on several outlets, including MSNBC, CBS, NPR, Univision and The New York Times. Recently, he was a digital producer for Al Jazeera America’s The Stream.