Image by Chris Faraone
Let’s get some obvious but nonetheless important stuff out of the way before examining this morning’s press conference at Boston City Hall.
First Night is a first rate event, or rather a series of events, on par with any celebration in America, New Year’s Eve or otherwise. This week’s schedule of festivities even features a performance by Yo La Tengo in addition to a smorgasbord of rad activities from Jamaica Plain, where puppet shows and porch fest serve as prime attractions, to the fireworks display downtown.
As for today’s media event, held in the Eagle room beside the office of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Things began as expected, with leaders praising the tradition of First Night, and Walsh thanking “generous sponsors” like John Hancock. Before passing the mic to Boston Police Department Commissioner Evans, Walsh noted that “public safety is the cornerstone” of such an event, and applauded officers for their responsible behavior in general. No one can handle situations better, the BPD leads by example, and so forth.
In his turn, Evans seconded the mayor’s positivity, confirming that NYE is “a great family night,” and also reminding those watching on the news at home that “If [they’re] going to bring alcohol, don’t have it out and about.” And then Evans arrived at the topic everyone was there for: the demonstrators.
“We’re going to accommodate the protesters if they choose to do so,” Evans said to the cameras. “If people are going to demonstrate they should realize there are a lot of families out there.” The commissioner added that he wouldn’t want to see the party spoiled, and for a split second, there seemed a genuine regard for those participating in the organized die-in and other protests.
And then reporters began flinging questions, starting with a loaded doozy about the “tone and tension” of protests. Walsh stepped in to quell matters: “I don’t think there’s a tension with the protesters.” And to offer his line about how, “At some point we have to shift to conversations.” And then the wagon took a turn for the manure stalls.
“The majority of the community is behind the police force,” declared Evans. As for demonstrators: “It’s not the community that is going to be up in arms protesting. This is for the most part people from outside the city who want to come in and protest.” Never mind the reality that thousands of Bostonians, as well as countless heads from the immediate region that feeds the Hub’s cultural and tax bases, have attended recent rallies. Or that groups like First Night Against The Wars, which will gather on Boylston Street tomorrow afternoon (in a separate but likely overlapping action from the anticipated First Night Against Police Violence), have been peacefully demonstrating on December 31 for a decade.
The commissioner’s condescension didn’t end with the dismissal of citizen engagement. When one reporter asked if Boston planned on using facial recognition software during First Night, she was met with disregard and cackles from officials and from other members of the media. That despite extensive evidence that both the city and police have indiscriminately deployed biometric software on unknowing spectators at past public events.
Overall, the tone fit a common theme in which the onus is not on police, but rather on the protesters themselves, and in which the focus is not on any particular message, but instead on the imagined havoc agitators have planned, in this case for First Night. According to Evans, “To disrupt the event on Boylston Street is a disservice to their character.” The same might be said of any public servant who classifies “most” peaceful demonstrators as outside inconveniences.