Image by Chris Faraone
More than a few elected officials showed at the community meeting held last night at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury. From longtime State Rep. Byron Rushing, to Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley, to Mayor Marty Walsh and Governor-elect Charlie Baker, well over a dozen pols observed or participated in a conversation that was facilitated by Rev. Jeffrey Brown and born out of the murder of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
But when it came time to join the protest that germinated in Dudley Square, only two blocks away from Twelfth Baptist, and then to march to the South Bay House of Correction with more than 1,000 demonstrators chanting “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” the only pols left standing on Monday — at least from what we saw on the street — were Boston City Councilors Tito Jackson and Charles Yancey of Roxbury and Mattapan, respectively.
It takes courage for an elected official to join the types of actions that are taking place across America this week. There’s no telling what demonstrators might do or say in your company and on video, or how their comments might be used against you in the future. Last night, though, media relations didn’t matter. Not to Councilor Yancey, and not to Councilor Jackson, who held down the corner of Mass Ave and Melnea Cass with a bullhorn at around 9pm.
The scene started off as borderline chaotic. Hundreds of protesters were walking away from another group that was still toeing a line against police by the South Bay House of Correction. As they began to arrive at Mass Ave and Melnea Cass, some began to split toward downtown, while others veered back toward Dudley. Given the opportunity, Jackson asked for a bullhorn and addressed a crowd in the street outside of Boston Medical Center.
Demonstrators watching attentively, the councilor started by lambasting Boston University. He’s had difficulties with BU before, in particular with the Level-4 biolab they built in his backyard using federal funding. Last night, however, Jackson hit the university hard for ignoring his request for them to disclose race and diversity numbers. As reported in the Boston Globe:
The Boston City Council, in a rare step, issued a subpoena Monday to Boston University president Robert Brown to compel him to appear at a hearing next week on employee and student diversity at local colleges.
The council said it acted after BU failed to comply with a request to send a representative to a hearing last month. If Brown fails to appear at the next meeting of the council’s Education Committee on Dec. 2, he could face arrest, according to state law.
It was the first time in recent memory the council has gone to such lengths in a dispute with a local college leader, although it has summoned others on a few occasions.
Jackson then proceeded to address disparities in Boston Public Schools and in the region in general. To that end, the councilor noted his recent attempt to create a Commission on Black and Latino Men. While the plan was unanimously approved by Jackson’s colleagues, it found resistance in the Walsh administration, which claimed that the proposal overlaps with work already underway.
“I have to be real with you,” Jackson told the crowd. “It was vetoed on the mayor’s desk.”
The impromptu press conference ended soon after, when one of Jackson’s aides alerted him to the possibility of violence sparking between police and protesters nearby. Within moments, the councilor split to check the situation, but not before leaving his impromptu audience with a request.
“I want to do this for black and Latino men,” Jackson said. “But if I’m going to be able to do this, I need you to support me.”
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.