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Cambridge Activists Protest Police Brutality at City Hall Demonstration

Protesters hold a sign at an event against police brutality.
Protesters hold a sign at an event against police brutality. By Meimei Xu
By Sarah Girma and Brandon L. Kingdollar, Crimson Staff Writers

A coalition of Cambridge-area activists rallied against police violence and mass incarceration during a protest in front of Cambridge City Hall on Saturday.

The protest, organized by The Black Response Cambridge, a police abolition advocacy group, was held in honor of the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality.

Local activists Andrew King and Mike Prince guided the event, occasionally leading demonstrators in chants, including “Ain’t no power like the power of the people ’cause the power of the people don’t stop.”

Boston area musicians Sassy D’estany and Terry Borderline performed songs at the protest, with D’estany kicking off the event with a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Stephanie Guirand, a member of the Black Response who was one of the event’s principal organizers, said during her opening remarks that city-led community safety reform efforts — such as Cambridge’s proposed Community Safety Department — are not a true alternative to policing.

“We may hear that the city is creating its own department, but what’s the difference between sending police with guns and police without them?” Guirand said. “We need to send people with different tools entirely.”

Lana Habash, a pro-Palestine organizer, listed names of victims of police brutality and Palestinians killed in Israel, pointing to commonalities between the police abolitionist and Palestinian liberation movements.

“The Palestinian struggle is inherently abolitionist,” Habash said. “We stand with Black, Indigenous, and people of color on this continent in their rejection of police and prisons as an assault on the life and liberation of BIPOC people.”

Later in the evening, Guirand criticized the Cambridge Police Department’s use of ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection technology implemented by the city in 2014, saying it disproportionately targets low-income neighborhoods.

“Those of us who live in the Port, you may get a lot of ShotSpotter reports,” Guirand said. “They’re actually concentrated in certain neighborhoods — in low-income neighborhoods around the city, around the projects — where there’s a great majority of people of color.”

CPD spokesperson Jeremy C. Warnick wrote in an email Sunday that ShotSpotter has been an effective tool for the city’s policing efforts.

“The sensors have been deployed in areas that have historically had the highest incidents of gunfire,” Warnick wrote. “In addition to being a valuable investigative tool, ShotSpotter has proven to be effective in detecting gunshot incidents that were not reported by residents.”

Among the event’s speakers was Kazi Toure, a member of the prison abolitionist National Jericho Movement. During his remarks, Toure decried U.S. police forces as “the fruit of a poisonous tree.”

“They come from the slave plantation,” Toure said. “They are the court system, they are the judges, district attorneys. They’re all part of the police, they’re all part of the same thing.”

Toure was convicted in 1987 for his role in plotting a series of bombings with the United Freedom Front, a Marxist organization that the FBI classified as a domestic terror group.

Derrick Washington, who is incarcerated, wrote a letter that was read by organizers of the event. Washington is the founder of the Emancipation Initiative, a group that aims to end life-without-parole prison sentences, restore voting rights in Massachusetts, and establish universal prisoner suffrage across the nation.

“Disapproving is fine, but it comes a time when the mangling and the murdering of us has to disappear — it has to stop,” Washington wrote in the letter, read aloud by one of the speakers to the toll of City Hall’s bells.

Two local politicians also spoke at the protest — Somerville City Councilor Willie Burnley Jr. and Cambridge City Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan.

Zondervan, the final speaker at the event, sponsored a policy order in 2021 requesting that Cambridge consider funding the Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team, a non-police public safety alternative developed by the Black Response.

Zondervan said funding HEART is a “top priority” for the council, adding that he has raised the issue with Cambridge’s new City Manager, Yi-An Huang.

Zondervan ended his speech by urging attendees to vote.

“Speak out,” Zondervan said. “Speak truth to power, vote, and let us know what you need and what you want and what you deserve.”

—Staff writer Sarah Girma can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @SarahGirma_.

—Staff writer Brandon L. Kingdollar can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @newskingdollar.

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