Action report: “Detention is Separation: Shut Down ICE” action, Boston, MA, June 30, 2018

By | July 1, 2018

Good people,

I would like to share with you my experience yesterday attending a protest action in Boston demanding changes in the U.S. government’s treatment of undocumented immigrants and migrants, both those who cross our borders and those who are already here.

It is time for all of us who oppose the government’s policies in this area to rise up and take action to help put an end to it. Sending money to organizations fighting on our behalf was and is important, but it’s no longer enough. Attending rallies where there’s lots of talk and no action was and is important, but it’s no longer enough. Even volunteering for organizations that provide direct assistance to undocumented immigrants who need help making their way through the U.S. immigration system — as incredibly important such volunteering was and is — is no longer enough. At this point, the barbarity, inhumanity, and cruelty of our government’s current treatment of undocumented immigrants calls us to nothing less than direct action to confront the government and force change.

I hope that sharing my experience will encourage others to join me in this struggle.

Action summary

The action I attended was a protest organized by Cosecha Boston on June 30, 2018 entitled “Detention is Separation: Shut Down ICE”.

In this action, hundreds of us marched from Wellington Common Park in Boston’s South End, to the South Bay House of Corrections on Bradston Street. South Bay was targeted because ICE contracts with Suffolk County to house ICE detainees there.

When we arrived at South Bay, a number of us shut down the facility for several hours by blocking access to its entrance, while hundreds more of us filled the street and supported the action through speeches, chants, and even music. After several hours at the facility, the protesters blocking the entrance were arrested, as we expected they would be. Most people left the protest at that point, either immediately or after marching back to Wellington Common. However, a few of us proceeded to the two police stations where the arrestees were taken for processing, where we waited until they were released to greet and thank them.

Why?

This action, and others like it around the country that have taken place recently, serve many purposes:

  • Undocumented immigrants in the U.S. need to know that they are not alone. They need to know that the majority of people in this country stand with them and will fight for them.
  • We may not be able to change the course of the federal government — at least not yet — but we can convince city and state governments to stop collaborating with ICE or in any way facilitating its barbarism. For example, we do not want Suffolk County to rent out space in its jails to ICE.
  • Public opinion and the dominant narrative matter, and events like this help to change them. Donald Trump and his supporters have tried to portray this as a national security issue. That’s a lie. This isn’t about national security, it’s about treating human beings with respect and dignity regardless of where they come from or the color of their skin.
  • As long as federal, state, and local government entities continue to oppress immigrants, we need to throw sand in the gears of government every chance we get, and if we don’t get any chances, then we need to create them. Working within the system is no longer good enough; we have to work actively to break it.
  • Last but certainly not least, direct, communal action is the best way, perhaps the only way, to combat the despair which so many of us are feeling about the state of our nation. Seeing hundreds of people willing to put themselves at risk to stand up for the humanity of immigrants, I was more hopeful and inspired than I have been since the 2016 election.

Detailed timeline

The event was scheduled to start at 4:00pm at Wellington Common. I left my house in Brighton at around 2:30 to walk there. I arrived at the park slightly before 4:00, after a stop at Children’s Hospital along the way to refill my water bottle, because boy, was it hot.

There was already quite a crowd at the park, a crowd whose numbers would eventually grow to several hundred. The crowd was made up of four categories of activists:

  • about 20 people who had volunteered and been trained in advance to engage in active civil disobedience (CD);
  • about 30-40 marshals with varying levels of experience and training at facilitating the action and ensuring everyone’s safety;
  • about 5-8 antifa folks prepared to respond as needed to physical provocation by counter-protesters; and
  • at least a couple hundred additional marchers, who are an essential part of any action such as this one, because they attract attention and make the action too large for law enforcement to easily shut down.

I was one of the “additional marchers” yesterday. I hope that in the future I will able to engage more actively as a marshal or even one of the CD activists. I don’t think I’m quite cut out to be an antifa enforcer. 😉

In addition to the people at the park, there were also:

  • a wagon with pizza, granola bars, sandwiches, bottles of water, and other snacks to hand out to everyone, attached to the back of a bicycle for easy transport during the march;
  • several coolers full of water and lemonade, obvious requirements on such a hot day; and
  • a portable sound system as well as numerous electric bullhorns scattered among the organizers.

For the next hour or so, we stayed at the park and listened to a series of speakers tell their personal stories, talk about the importance of this action and others like it, and lead chants. As far as I could tell, the purpose of this phase of the action was three-fold: (1) allow time for latecomers to arrive; (2) warm up the crowd; and (3) give the organizers and marshals time to scope out the crowd for potential provocateurs, ascertain the level of police presence, and decide which of their several alternative plans for the action to go with.

We also were led in several songs by Vocal Opposition and rallied by the BABAM Band.

A little after 5:00, we left the park to march down Massachusetts Avenue to South Bay. The march took over the southbound lanes, stopping traffic. Marshals at the front, back, and sides of the march, clad in yellow safety vests, kept order. At each intersection, marshals locked hands across side streets to protect the marchers and prevent the march from being interrupted by cross-traffic. Several police cruisers with lights flashing drove in front of the march, and I believe there were also police cars and motorcycles at the back, though I’m not certain since I was near the front. Organizers scattered throughout the marchers led chants as we marched.

As we approached the entrance to South Bay, we could see about 20 Suffolk Country sheriff’s deputies lined up elbow to elbow in front of the facility, at the top of the four steps leading up to the entrance. They wore dark, long-sleeved uniforms, helmets with face shields, and hard-shell shin guards. Some also wore thick, black gloves, while others wore blue medical gloves. All held identical, wooden riot batons horizontally at arms’ length in front of them. It was quite a menacing look. I don’t believe they were armed with firearms, though it looked like some of them had pepper-spray canisters.

Those deputies stood, virtually immobile, for the entire action — several hours — except during the arrests. At various times, other deputies not in riot gear came out through the entrance behind the line to observe the action briefly before returning inside. Two deputies in particular are worth mentioning: one who made several passes distributing bottled water to the deputies, and another with a video camera on a pole who made several slow passes over the protesters with it.

When we reached the entrance, the CD activists sat down in a row in front of the steps. The 20 cops looming menacingly at the top of the stairs over the 20 activists sitting peacefully at the bottom made for quite a sight. Then came another round of speeches, chants, and music commenced.

A few minutes after having sat down in front of the steps, the CD activists all at once lifted themselves up from in front of the steps onto the bottom step. I’m not certain, but I believe this is the point at which they were officially blocking he entrance to the facility and therefore technically trespassing.

At a little after 7:00, the cops started arresting the CD activists. One by one, they tapped each activist on the shoulder, who then stood up and moved to the top of the steps. Their hands were zip-tied behind them, and they were escorted to waiting sheriff’s vans to be transported to nearby BPD stations for processing.

Throughout the action, especially when the arrests began, marchers repeatedly called out the cops for being part of the system that is detaining undocumented people and separating families. A chant of “Quit your job! Quit your job!” broke out several times. One of the speakers stated that since their first days as slave-hunters, police as an institution has been used by the rich and powerful to oppress and control the less powerful. One marcher at the front read the names of cops off of their uniforms and called them out by name, asking them how they could be a part of this. Throughout all this, while wearing dark, heavy gear in 90-degree heat, the cops remained calm and dispassionate. They did not react to the marchers, and as far as I could tell, they treated all of the CD activists with civility and without any unnecessary force. The arrests happened so calmly that it almost seemed choreographed. I don’t say this as a bad thing; on the contrary, when CD is called for, I would rather for the people engaging in it to be arrested calmly under ground rules that both sides understand and agree to, rather then them getting beat up.

After the arrests, The organizers announced that they had been informed that the arrestees were being split between Boston Police Department stations C-6 and D-4 for processing. Those protesters who wanted were invited to go to one or the other of the two stations to provide jail support. That means means going to the stations to be “eyes and ears” to encourage the BPD to release the arrested activists as quickly as possible; to help return the belongings of the activists, which they had handed off to marshals before they were arrested; and to welcome and thank the activists and help provide them with anything they need (food, cigarettes, whiskey) upon their release. Cosecha was kind enough to provide pizza for people who went to the stations to help with jail support, which was nice since they were there until late at night after a protest action beginning at 4:00.

I’m not certain what is involved in processing the arrestees since I wasn’t one of them, but I imagine that they were searched, photographed, fingerprinted, interviewed for identification information, told what they were being charged with, and put into a cell while waiting for their bail to be set and paid. Bail was set at each station by a bail magistrate. BPD only called in one magistrate to handle both stations, so the release of people at D-4 was delayed until after everyone at C-6 had been released. I believe Cosecha paid the bail for the arrestees.

The final releases happened at around 3:15am in the morning. Unfortunately, I was unable to stay long enough to greet any arrestees upon their release because I had to catch the last bus home and because I couldn’t afford to stay out any later since I had responsibilities the following morning. Maybe next time!

The police at the station — at least at D-4, where I was — were perfectly civil and allowed those of us who wanted to wait in the lobby of the station to do so, as well as to use the bathrooms.

Media coverage

I saw or heard about reporters and photographers for the Globe, the Herald, and CBS4 at the action; there may have been others I missed.

The Globe reporter didn’t even bother to stay until the end (though apparently the photographer did!), so the first article they published about the protest didn’t even mention that people had been arrested. Yet another example of quality Boston Globe local news coverage! They attempted to make up for their initial failure by publishing a second article on their web site about the arrests late Sunday afternoon.

The Herald reporter did stay until the end, and not only did the article they ran talk about the arrests in detail, it was on the front page of Sunday’s paper. I’m sorry to say, however, that there were three factual errors in the first three paragraphs of the article:

A day of protests against the nation’s immigration policies brought thousands into the sweltering downtown and ended with arrests at the steps of the South Bay House of Correction last night where ICE houses illegal migrants.

Suffolk County correction officers arrested about 20 protesters outside the jail after more than 100 activists filled the street taking positions on the stairway, leading into the building. [There were several hundred activists at the protest, not “more than 100,” and only about 20 of them actually took positions on the stairway.]

Once they moved to the top step, they were warned and then arrested. [Actually, none of the activists on the stairs moved above the second step from the bottom before the arrests began.]

As far as I know, no one from the media went to the police stations with the jail support teams or was there when the arrestees were released.

Working together despite our differences

I am not a communist; there were honest-to-goodness communists, one of them even carrying a big communist flag, at the protest.

I am not a socialist; there were proud members of the workers party at the protest proclaiming capitalism as the root of all evil.

I disagree quite strongly about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with Jewish Voices for Peace and If Not Now, two organizations which were well-represented at the protest; indeed, a representative from JVP spoke and sparked a “Free Palestine!” chant from the protesters.

Nevertheless, I persisted.

These are the people in the trenches, fighting to restore respect, dignity, and protection for the human rights and liberty of immigrants. I don’t agree with them about everything, but I will continue fight with them, because it’s the right thing to do, and they’re the ones doing it.

Credit where credit is due

Simply put, the organizers of this action did a truly amazing job.

I was told that they managed to organize the entire action in just six days. Given how well everything went, that’s just remarkable.

The marshals clearly knew what they were doing and did it well. The activists who blocked the stairs and were arrested were clearly trained well in how to do what they were doing without antagonizing the cops or provoking a violent response. There was food and water for everyone.

There was no violence of note at any time during the event, which is a credit to both the organizers and the marchers.

After the march, a bunch of volunteers organized in real-time and did a fabulous job of manning the police stations and giving the arrested activists the greeting they deserved when they were released and getting them all home safely.

Some of the speakers at the park and at South Bay identified themselves as undocumented immigrants, at full volume, with their real names, within sight and earshot of cops. I’m awed by the bravery it takes to do that, especially in the current climate. Hats off to them for putting themselves out there and risking themselves for the cause.

I know it isn’t stylish in among the far left to acknowledge cops for behaving well. After all, “behaving well” should be a baseline expectation for cops, given the amount of power they hold over everyone else. Nevertheless, I personally think it is important to recognize that — at least as far as I could tell — all of the cops involved yesterday behaved with dignity and treated the protesters and the protest with respect.

But I do have one concern…

I think the organizers need to put a bit more thought into operational security.

Things in this country are going to get a lot worse before they get better, and I’m sure that before then, law enforcement is going to be trying to infiltrate groups like Cosecha and go after the people active in them (if they aren’t already!).

Given that, some of how the group is using technology is worrisome. For example:

  • People were asked to RSVP for the event on a Google Form feeding into a Google Sheet. If the account of one of the people with access to that Sheet were compromised by law enforcement, they would immediately have access to a big, fat list of potential surveillance targets.
  • A Google Sheet was used to share names, email addresses, and contact information for the people who were doing jail support after the protest. Literally anyone at the event who volunteered for jail support was given access to the Sheet. See above.
  • A Signal group was used by marshals for coordination — including security coordination — throughout the event. I was able to get myself added to the group at the start of the event simply by walking up to one of the organizers and asking him to add me. Yes, they can trust me, but none of them had ever seen me before, so how could they possibly have known that?

Operational security isn’t just important to prevent actions from being disrupted. It’s also important because Cosecha and other grassroots group have an obligation not to put their members and volunteers at unnecessary risk.

Computer security is actually what I’ve done for a living for the past thirty years, and I’d love to help. If anyone from Cosecha is reading this and wants to take me up on this offer, let me know.

What’s next?

I hope to attend Cosecha’s next meeting, on July 5.

I will work with Cosecha and other organizations to find out what I can do to help further their mission, whether that’s marching, marshaling, organizing, or even planting myself in front of menacing cops and getting arrested.

I will let them tell me how I can help, rather than trying to force my help on them. I am not directly affected by the anti-immigrant policies of the federal government, so I need to act as an ally and not try to center myself in the discussion.

I will no longer sit on the sidelines.

How about you?

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