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Hundreds of Arlingtonians add voices in worldwide furor over racism

AHRC logoSupporters of justice following the death of George Floyd demonstrate June 1 on a median at Mass. Ave. /
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6 p.m. vigils continue

UPDATED, June 8: As thousands protested worldwide in reaction to the May 25 death of a black man under the knee of a white Minnesota police officer, some of the events turning violent, hundreds in Arlington have decried the racism and expressed support for George Floyd over numerous evenings. All have been peaceful. 

About 500 people were among those holding signs at Mass. Ave. and Mystic on Monday, Capt. Richard Flynn of Arlington police estimated. Residents involved in the protest estimated far more turned out that evening along Mass. Ave. from Brattle Square to Lake Street.

The nightly 6 o'clock vigils have been organized with the help of Isa Dray, a student at Arlington High School, and her mother, Elizabeth, a leader with Arlington Fights Racism, a group supporting a slate of candidates in the June 6 election. Isa told YourArlington on June 3:

'Recenter the focus'

"I would like to encourage Arlington to recenter the focus on our solidarity with the national Black Lives Matter movement protesting police brutality and the systemic racism that this country is still founded on.

"The solidarity vigils taking place along Mass. Ave. every night from 6 to 7 are not about who organizes or how any individual chooses to show their solidarity but about how we as a town are committing to demanding justice and reflecting on systemic racism in our own town’s government, educational system and police department.

"Showing up for one hour of your day is not enough and must be paired with hard conversations, amplification of black voices, redistribution of wealth through donations, self-education and critical reflection on one’s own complicit role in systemic racism.

Participant comments

Lynette Culverhouse, who participated in the protests, commented June 4 about what she saw the evenings of June 1 through 3:

"Literally hundreds of people spread out along Mass. Ave., from East Arlington to the Heights. I had been in the Center, where the majority of participants are young people holding creative, handmade signs supporting black lives.

"I'd say 80 percent of cars passing through were blowing horns in support, and some cars were participating that way and driving up and down Mass. Ave. with signs and a lot of hand gestures of support.

"A group of protesters were peacefully marching across Mass. Ave. and back at the intersection with Pleasant Street chanting 'George Floyd' or other things. The whole thing was peaceful, friendly and purposeful."

She concluded by drawing a parallel between the officer accused in Floyd's death at Lt. Rick Pedrini of Arlington police. The former officer "had a record but was allowed to remain in service, as Pedrini was. We are not keeping our people safe when we overlook threats of violence, or actual violence, by a police officer." 

Given the ongoing pandemic, organizers encourage social distancing at these events. 

One arrest Monday

Only one incident related to vigils from May 29 through June 1 has led to an arrest, one involving Chief Juliann Flaherty.

A 23-year-old East Arlington protester was charged with disorderly conduct on Monday evening after he sat in the roadway at Mass. Ave. and Mystic, refusing to move and "kicking cars," the police report said.

AHRC logoChief Juliann Flaherty assists in June 1 arrest. / Marjorie Howard photo

Alexander Bergeron, 23, of Cleveland St., declined to respond to officers as well as to family members who asked him to move. At length, Flaherty gave the man one last chance, and when he sat firm, he was taken away in handcuffs.

A police report says that about 6:30 p.m. officers arrived to a report of traffic obstruction and saw a large number of people on all corners of the intersection as well as on the median protesting, holding signs and yelling. Traffic was also traveling through the intersection beeping their horns.

The report says Bergeron was standing directly in the middle of the intersection at Mass. Ave. and Rt. 60, interfering with traffic and holding a sign which read "NO MORE RACIST MURDERER COPS CHANGE NOW."

As two officers spoke to Bergeron, traffic continued to travel in all directions within close proximity, and he would not speak or answer any questions. The officers asked Bergeron several times to leave the intersection and join the protesters on the side of the roadway.

Bergeron refused and stated, "I have the right to protest." Officers told Bergeron he did have that right, "but not to stand in the road and interfere with traffic, causing a dangerous condition or kick motor vehicles.

Bergeron's mother arrived and attempted to speak with him, and he would not answer her, the report says. Among others, Chief Flaherty arrived. Officers continued requesting multiple times that Bergeron move out of the middle of the intersection, but he continued to refuse. Bergeron's father and brother arrived, but he declined their requests.

Flaherty told Bergeron he would be asked one last time to move out of the roadway, or he would be arrested. He refused and was charged. "Once Officers placed a hand on him, he dropped to one knee before placing his hands behind his back to be handcuffed," the report says.

Bergeron was released on personal recognizance and given an Aug. 25 date at Cambridge District Court. 

How arrested protester saw what happened

Alex Bergeron, the 23-year-old East Arlington man charged with disorderly conduct during the June 1 demonstration, has provided local media outlets with his side of the story. His statement, published with the editor's additions, says:

AHRC logoAlex Bergeron protests June 1, showing the side of his sign not noted in a police report.

"On the night of June 1st, I arrived at the intersection of Pleasant Street and Mass. Ave. in Arlington around 5:30. I stood on the island in the middle of Mass. Ave. for some time peacefully demonstrating with my fellow community members.

"My intentions were to be mostly nonverbal during this demonstration and to promote justice and equality.

"At approximately 6:15 a car pulled up to the intersection during a red light, and the man in the car began shouting profanity and hate speech at nearby peaceful protesters. Including high school and middle school aged children.

"I stepped into the crosswalk and in front of the car and held up my sign. He was held for a single light cycle, and he continued to project his hate speech. Other protesters confronted him as well.

"He then sped off, nearly running me over in the crosswalk. I regrettably gestured as to kick the car driven by the man yelling hate speech ... in a red Jeep as he was pulling away. That was the only vehicle that made any contact with me during the course of the events.

"I then ended up in the middle of the intersection. I was not obstructing traffic, as it was freely flowing around me.

"I had to remain in the intersection, as I realized that it would not be safe for me to move at that time, and furthermore I felt as though that was where I needed to be to effectively exercise my right to protest.

"The police then arrived and blocked the intersection. At first, there was only one officer. He tried to tell me I had to leave the street, to which I exercised my right to remain silent.

"Several more police then arrived and attempted to convince me to leave the road and to go talk off to the side. I did not reply.

"A girl and a woman who claimed to have organized the the protest came out and attempted to persuade me to leave the street. I didn’t answer them either. She informed me that I was ruining her protest. To which I informed her that it was not about her.

"I asked if the police had issued me request or a command, and they informed me that it was indeed a request. I asked them what crime I was committing, and they could not name one.

In addition I do not wish to make these events about what happened to me. Much worse things are happening and have happened on a daily basis all around the country throughout history to people far less privileged than myself. I wish only to open the eyes of the community to the injustices that have been committed and continue to be committed with no reparation. We must once and for all condemn hatred and injustice and unite as one human race.

"I then began to be pushed and removed from the road. I went down to a knee in significance of the protest and placed my hands behind my back voluntarily.

"They then placed handcuffs on me and informed me that I was being charged with disorderly conduct.

"I was polite and entirely cooperative. I had a conversation with the arresting officers about my history as a citizen and a member of the Arlington and Boston Community.

"After booking, I was placed in a holding cell for only a few moments. I was then informed that I was being released due to my cooperation and the fact that I didn’t resist in any way. Upon release, the police informed me that I was very respectful, and I pleaded with them to never let the violent events that have happened around our country happen in our community and that they stand united with the community and citizens of this nation in support of equality, justice and freedom for all.

"In regards to the message on my sign. I mainly displayed the sentence 'no more racist corrupt system change now.' On the reverse side of my sign, I had written the sentence “no more racist murderer cops change now,” to which I displayed only to police officers in order to make a stronger impact.

"I believe that these are strong, and to some maybe, unsettling messages, but that they are relevant and necessary to be conveyed.

"I do not believe that all police are bad people. More so, I believe that the men and women of the police force are inherently good. However, that the police as an institution have many extreme issues, which have been left unaddressed for centuries. The message I would truly like to convey is for every citizen of this country and every member of the human race to cast aside hatred and bias as well as our perceived differences in order to unite in peace, love and equality for all of mankind.

"In addition I do not wish to make these events about what happened to me. Much worse things are happening and have happened on a daily basis all around the country throughout history to people far less privileged than myself. I wish only to open the eyes of the community to the injustices that have been committed and continue to be committed with no reparation. We must once and for all condemn hatred and injustice and unite as one human race."

Asked whether he knew the name of the young woman with whom he had spoken, he wrote: "I cannot be sure, as she was wearing a mask, and I did not hear her introduce herself, but I believe her name is Isa Dray." She has declined to comment about this quote.

Asked whether he believed the Arlington police handled the situation appropriately, he responded: "I believe the Arlington Police did what they thought they had to do. However, I believe that there is no such thing as an illegal act of peaceful protest. I have no prior record at all, and I do not believe my actions warranted my arrest or being charged with a crime, as I had committed no crime."

Noting that the police report says he did not speak to police, he was asked: Do you think that explaining the situation from your viewpoint would have helped? He responded:

"At the time, I was under extreme duress [and] I attempted to inform the officers I was exercising my First Amendment right to protest. I asked them if they were commanding me or requesting me to leave the street. They informed me that it was only a request. I asked them what crime had I committed, and they could not tell me that I had committed any crime. I was exercising my First Amendment right, which I believe has been violated. We cannot be expected to protest an institution under its own conditions."


June 4, 2020: Town Democrats decry police violence

May 29, 2020: Town leaders denounce Minneapolis police in death of black man


This news summary was published Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Updated through June 8.

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