Boston Mayor Marty Walsh held a virtual prayer vigil Saturday afternoon in response to racism and the acts of violence happening throughout the U.S. in light of George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis.
Mayor Walsh was joined by some of the foremost leaders in the Boston faith-based community, and he acknowledging that not everyone could appear alongside him because of social distancing requirements amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Drawing on the values our faith leaders have taught us, Walsh said, "Scripture makes it very clear that we cannot stay silent in times of injustice. Scriptures tell us what we need to act on our values. Isaiah 1:17 tells us, Learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the orphan, and plead the case of the widow. It's not enough to believe in the word of god, we must act on the word of god."
Gathered in front of City Hall just after 12:30 p.m., Walsh said, "We're here today to honor the memory of George Floyd and to reflect on his murder. Now is a time for all of us to stand together, by praying for peace, by listening and learning, and working for justice."
Boston's mayor said too often we all hear the news that another black man or another black woman has been killed.
"Our response is consistent. 'I cant believe this. How could this happen?' But we all know how it happened. It's part of the history of hatred and violence rooted in our country's past and continues today through systemic racism. This is not something politicians say. This is reality," he said. "For black Americans, black parents and black children, it’s a traumatic reality played out far too many times and it never stops hurting. We do not and we will not tolerate that kind of brutality here in Boston and will continue to take steps necessary to prevent it."
Directly addressing black and brown Bostonians, Mayor Walsh said, "I want you to know, that I stand with you and I love you. And even though I don’t walk in your shoes, my heart aches for you. To say things that must change isn’t enough. We must actively work together to build a more just world. We need to put aside our differences, our politics, our biases, to take steps forward."
"And now I want to speak to the rest of Boston, including white Bostonians like me, there is real pain in the black community. They are our brothers and our sisters and our fellow Bostonians. Every day, black mothers worry about heir sons and their husbands, what could happen to them on there way to work or on their way to school."
Mayor Walsh said he had a conversation Friday night with black city employees who told him how painful this week has been and how it has reopened wounds for them.
"As humans, we should all recognize the depth of that pain and fear," Walsh said. "I want us to take a moment to reflect on what I said today...I'm asking you to reflect on the pain and the fears."
Mayor Walsh said we need to be listening to those speaking out right now because he cannot be standing in the same place six months from now, giving the same speech.
Regarding some of the demonstrations that have turned violent, Mayor Walsh said it's personally hard to watch as he knows the mayors of those cities. He specifically mentioned the mayors in Minneapolis, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Detroit and Louisville, Kentucky.
"The theme is the same," he said. "It's about pain and hurt and understanding and recognizing that. If there's ever a moment to acknowledge injustice and recommit our nation to eradicating it, its right now. It’s this moment. This is our moment in time to make a difference. This is our moment in time to change as a nation. I take this responsibility very seriously, both as a mayor and a white person."
Drawing on the city's response to the coronavirus over the past few months, Walsh said, "We’ve shown how powerful we are when we come together for the common good. It's time for us to do that again right now. If this pandemic has taught me anything, or taught us anything, it should be that we never forget, it's that we depend on each other...That’s what the virus has taught us."
Referencing former President Barack Obama's statements Friday, Walsh said, we cannot return to the old normal.
"We start by acknowledging that life is sacred, and when black lives are threatened, we must speak up and stand up with our brothers and sisters. We must put an end to bigotry, the hate, the injustice, with the same urgency that we're bringing to the fight against this global pandemic," he said. "We do this with love and faith in our hearts, united by a belief that when we truly come together, we will overcome."
Walsh ended his speech with a list of intentions, saying, "Today we pray together for the COVID patient. We pray for the hungry child. We pray for the essential worker. We pray for the first responder, our police, our fire, our EMTs. We pray for Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Christian Cooper. George Floyd. We pray for every black man, woman and child who has faced oppression and violence on American soil since the founding of our country... We pray for families in our neighborhood. We pray for the young people in our schools. We pray and we work for a better future."
Following Mayor Walsh's comments, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross spoke of how several from the surrounding group of clergy of all faiths had helped raise him, taught him the importance of life, as well as all-inclusive history and the importance of life no matter what color.
"For decades, centuries followed by decades, that people are dying at the hands of the executive branch of the united states, people will become angry, they will say black lives matter, and all lives matter, and it will be pretty tough for them to realize that blue lives matter," the police commissioner said. "With that being said, let me tell you where we are with 21st century policing today. You should lead your departments with bias-free policing, you should lead your department with fair and impartial policing, procedural justice, and for god sakes, de-escalation, this is what's taught in 21st century policing as touted by President Obama who had that study done."
Commissioner Gross continued to talk about how the kind of policing witnessed in Minneapolis is not the kind of policing done here in Boston and Massachusetts.
"We should not ourselves, our children, our seniors that paved the way, ever have to view a video like we did that emanated from Minneapolis. As an officer knelt on Mr. Floyd's neck until he was calling out his mother's name," he said. "That is not the way we police. That is not the way we’re gonna police. And if we run into any incidents like that, we will handle it."
Gross speaking on behalf of several law enforcement groups in Massachusetts said, "This isn’t like past incidents, you’ve seen all of us come out and denounce those actions of that officer, excuse me, I won't even call him an officer. The actions of that man taking another's life in front of us. We denounce it. We support the termination."
Seemingly referencing the other three officers who were part of Floyd's arrest but that have not yet been arrested, Gross said, "And we believe that all of those that participated should be brought to justice because that's what's right. We’re taught right and wrong when we're raised. Right and wrong. And then we have to see this again and again and again. That is not indicative of all law enforcement. But those of you that think it is, we have to prove that it isn't that way."
The commissioner ended his comments with praise for Mayor Walsh and city leadership, saying, "Thank god that we have the leadership that we do right here representing a Boston that is now 50-percent people of color, in a city where first responders should reflect every neighborhood that we serve. That’s the way we conquer racism. That’s the way that we conquer that horrendous, cowardly act of taking a man's life is by getting to know each other so we have empathy, sympathy, care and respect like we were taught."
Bishop John M. Borders III, the senior pastor for Boston's Morning Star Baptist Church, was the first of several religious leaders to offer a prayer at the vigil. He said the members of the faith community were not in attendance as tools of the mayor or the police commissioner, and they were not there to placate the unrest taking place.
"We are here because we have a moral obligation to be here. Because we care," he said.
The public was asked to participate virtually, given public gathering restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic.
When Mayor Walsh announced the vigil Friday in a tweet, he wrote that Boston stands together against injustice. In a video posted to Twitter on Friday, Walsh called the video of Floyd's arrest "horrifying" and said the man was killed in an act of "inhumane brutality."
Floyd, 46, died in police custody; video shows former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck, even after Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe and eventually stopped moving. Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder on Friday.
"It was devastating to watch and listen as he cried out for his mother in his dying moments," Walsh said.
"I know how much more painful it is for black and brown Americans in Minneapolis, across our country, and right here in Boston to see the footage and to have to talk to your children about it and to ask once again if this kind of injustice will ever be put behind us," Walsh said in the video. "It's traumatic, and to black Americans, it's not a new experience. It happens in communities big and small, urban and rural, all across this country."
Friday, a peaceful protest in Boston's South End over Floyd's death turned violent. Demonstrators and police clashed at the protest, which initially drew about a thousand people, and 10 people were arrested, according to the Boston Police Department. But it didn't result in the kind of fiery property damage seen elsewhere around the country Friday night.
Walsh said he understands the pain and anger many are experiencing right now, noting that it comes at an incredibly stressful time with the coronavirus pandemic.
"In this public health crisis, we're seeing systemic inequalities play out in the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has on our black and brown communities who are facing more illness, more death and more economic hardship," the mayor said.
Walsh said these truly difficult times are only made more difficult by "national leaders who issue brutal threats, instead of pulling us together," seemingly referencing President Donald Trump's tweets in which he threatened to call in the National Guard, labeled the protesters "thugs" and said Mayor Jacob Frey had lost control over the city.
"If there was ever a moment to acknowledge injustice and more importantly recommit our nation to eradicating it, it is right now," he said. "So I want you to know: in Boston, we are all in this together."