Massachusetts Out Front (Maybe Too Far) on Dealing with Public-Safety-Threatening Protests

It was a Thursday in mid-January of this year when the protesters, acting under the “Black Lives Matter” banner, chained themselves to cement-filled barrels and rolled them out on Interstate 93 in Milton and Malden in suburban Boston, in the middle of the morning rush hour. Needless to say, people and officials were understandably upset. A number of people were arrested.

Last month, protesters under the same banner blocked the intersection of Main Street and Columbus Boulevard in Hartford during the evening rush hour. Seventeen people were arrested.

Following the latter incident, The Shad engaged in a Facebook debate over the tactics of the protesters. Unfortunately, many people can’t seem to grasp the difference between the substantive and legitimate subject matter and the manner of protest.

It’s this simple: blocking a highway or a busy intersection for any protest is a public safety issue and should not be tolerated. The law should be strong enough that it discourages this type of public protest; something more than “disorderly conduct.”

The Hartford protest was held on what they called “Moral Monday.” The Boston protest claimed a certain higher oral ground. But consider these real-life consequences:

• The young woman who had waited three months to see a cancer specialist at Dana-Farber. She missed the appointment.
• The no less than five ambulances—some containing people with life threatening injuries—that had to be diverted from some of Boston’s best trauma center to Brockton hospital.
• The regular Joe trying to get to work—quite possibly a second or third job—to make a living.
• The parents trying to get their kids to school.

The protesters in Boston and Hartford would be the first to rail against the injustices of the health care system; the lack of employment opportunity including income inequality; and the achievement gap and poor graduation rates in our schools—and well they should!

The point here is that there is a time and place for protest that can actually be more effective and doesn’t jeopardize the very people to whom the protesters want to call attention. Lost on most of these protesters is that fact that many people predisposed to supporting whatever cause they are pushing are immediately turned off by the methods used.

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Protesters on I-93 in Malden, Mass. in January.

Amazingly, a person in my Facebook back-and-forth who I consider smart and media savvy, responded to my above argument with, “Well, nobody did die, did they?” What? We need for someone to die to use some common sense?

Of course. idiocy on the part of some protesters and some of their supporters does not preclude a disproportionate response from lawmakers trying to address the problem.

Take Massachusetts state Rep. Colleen Garry (D-Dracut). She has introduced legislation to make it a felony to block state highways. Ok by me. But she then took it too far by making the charge of attempted murder available to police in public-safety-endangering traffic blocking.

As overreaching as Garry’s proposed legislation was, the backlash against her was even worse. On the Internet, she was called a racist even though her legislation could also be applied to, say, a Klan rally on a highway or the Westboro Baptist Church blocking a crucial artery of transportation.

At what point do we take a breath and apply some clear thinking? Yes, it should be a felony to block transportation that threatens the safety of the public. But no, unless it’s clear there was an effort to kill someone, attempted murder shouldn’t apply. And no, a person is not a racist if they back the aforementioned remedies to the problem.

It seems this shouldn’t even have to be articulated but with the complete nonsensical thinking of people today, it clearly does.

My favorite story reported around the time of these incidents has to do with when local Boston television reporters tried and failed for the most part to talk to the cement-headed protesters. (As an aside, police said many of the protesters were wearing adult diapers, obviously expecting a long stay on the highway.)

Here’s what happened when the CBS affiliate tried to talk to the protesters after they were arraigned and released. The protesters telling the reporters they were “trespassing”:


Beautiful irony.