Protesters Complain Police Used Excessive Force
By Pankaj Khadka
BU News Service
Protesters who were arrested at demonstrations in Boston Tuesday night in the wake of a grand jury verdict to not indict the police officer in Ferguson, Mo., who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, said police used excessive force on mostly peaceful marchers.
Boston Police arrested 47 people at the demonstrations and Police Commissioner William Evans told the Boston Globe: “All in all, I think everybody handled themselves pretty well last night.”
However, protester’s accounts of clashes with police differed from Evans’ statement. Many of the arrested protesters lined up inside Courtroom 17 at the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in Boston on Wednesday facing their formal arraignment appeared to be high school and college age.
Tripp Diaz, 24, from Virginia, claimed that police officers stepped on her repeatedly and used excessive force on her, which resulted in cuts and bruises across the right side of her face, ears and the side of her body.
“I got pulled by a police officer by my hair – she got pulled by her arm, yanked on the ground, and stepped on repeatedly and kneed on the face,” said Diaz, pointing to her partner as they left the court on a rainy Wednesday afternoon.
“I also have bite mark on my arm and bruises all down the side of my body that I just got from being pushed onto the ground so hard… The [bruises] on my face are directly from them kneeing my face into the ground and me trying to move. The whole time I was screaming, ‘Help! Help! I can’t breathe…’ But they wouldn’t stop,” she continued.
Diaz said she was part of the group that was arrested near Copley Square as protesters attempted to march past a police barricade towards Interstate 93.
While the protest was largely peaceful, there was a lot of pushing from both sides, after which the officers started arresting people, said Diaz.
“I think that once [the officers] got agitated and could no longer keep their cool, a few of them started inciting… And we were just pushing each other,” said Diaz. “I don’t think that that itself was violent, but that led to violence because it led to them injuring people who were just trying to have a peaceful protest.”
While both Boston Police and State Police were at the demonstrations, it wasn’t clear which department’s officers were involved in the clashes with the protesters.
Multiple calls the Boston Police Department and its media relations office for comment were not returned. Evans told the Globe that one main goal was to keep the marchers off of the highways, which would have lead to chaos. Police also declined to send in riot police because the protests were mostly peaceful.
Jordan Freundlich, 19, of Jamaica Plain, who was also arrested, shared a similar account of police behavior as described by Diaz.
Freundlich went to the protest with a group of his colleagues from the City School, a non-profit in Dorchester that works with teenagers between ages 14 and 19 from the greater Boston area who are passionate about social justice, according to the non-profit’s website.
When the protesters reached Dewey Square, they ran into a blockade set up by the police officers and Freundlich said he noticed one of his co-workers – a senior at a local high school – getting into a tussle with an officer.
Somehow, his co-worker ended up on the ground and as he bent down to pick her up, “the officers grabbed both of us and proceeded to throw me to the ground, hands behind my back – zip-tied them,” said Freundlich. “An officer put his shin on the side of my face and kind of put all of his pressure down and grinded my face into the pavement.”
The sophomore from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., who had bloody bruises on his face and swelling on the right side of his face, said he participated in the demonstration to show solidarity not just for Brown but for every person of color in the country, including his friends, who “have to face injustices and challenges that I know nothing about.”
Somerville resident Kevin Wright, 32, also said police used excessive force.
Wright, who was also arrested on Tuesday night, said that while he was thrown to the ground, which he described as not a “big deal,” said he saw women being choked, pulled from the crowd by their hair, and thrown to the ground.
“These women weigh 90 pounds and they’re getting kicked in the head,” said Wright. “There was no instigation.”
He said he participated in the protest to stand up against just that kind of behavior: “police intolerance and police brutality and to let the police know that they’re not invincible.”
Leigh Hall, 21, a theatre major at Emerson College, claimed she was placed in handcuffs for four hours and placed in the holding cell for about three and a half hours before being processed.
Hall, who was arrested near the Mass. Pike, said she managed to beat the police officers, who were racing to set up a barricade to prevent protesters from getting onto I-93, by seconds.
“As I am running, the barricade closes up behind me. Subsequently I stop and an officer tells me to turn around and rejoin the protesters. And I refused. Then he started pushing me, and so I sat down on the ground,” said Hall. Just then, another young woman managed to get past the barricade, who was then grabbed by the police officer and thrown to the ground,” said Hall.
“I tried to intervene and he grabbed me from the neck – behind from the neck – and grabbed my arm and started pushing me down against the ground,” she said. “And my camera was hanging in front of my body, was underneath my chest, so I was being pushed repeatedly into my camera on the ground.”
However, Hall noted that the police hadn’t use excessive force on her compared to the force used on other women that were brought in.
“When they came in and I saw their faces and how beat up I was, I thought about how lucky I was,” said Hall. “And then I realized that it wasn’t really luck. It’s just because I am a young white female and I don’t look threatening and they were African-American, so they obviously had more force used against them,” she said, referring to the other women that were arrested.
Carlos Battle, 23, a senior psychology major at Northeastern University, said the scene was chaotic as police officers attacked and shoved protesters’ faces to the ground.
Battle said officers came into the crowd and started pushing people forcibly and moments later, an officer “put his hand around my neck and choked me and I got subsequently pushed through the police line and shoved to the ground.”
“I did not resist at all. They broke my glasses, and while I was on the ground, they had knees on my back, my arms,” Battle said. He said this happened as he kept repeating that he wasn’t resisting.
He also criticized the police officers’ behavior saying that the crowd was only yelling and shouting, which was well within their rights.
“This wasn’t Ferguson – nothing got burned, nothing got raided. No one got hurt,” said Battle. “Well, that’s a lie – we got hurt.”