Two new victims of “Boston’s finest”

July 8, 2008

AS IN just about every city in the country, the police in Boston are flooding into neighborhoods and increasing surveillance, all in the name of cracking down on violence. The summer began, though, with two incidents that displayed the Boston cops' own violent tactics.

On May 27, in the Black neighborhood of Roxbury, police hit 20-year-old Nathaniel Rivers with their cruiser and then beat him.

According to Rivers, he found a gun in a park where his family was having a cookout. The mayor and the cops have been promoting a program that pays people to turn in guns, so Nathaniel got on his bike to take the gun to the police station. He didn't get far though before police knocked him off his bike when they rammed him with their car.

The cops then beat Nathaniel so severely that he needed an EMT's attention afterward. His cousin, Stephen Lewis, intervened to protect Nathaniel when he saw that the cops were unrelenting. "They just kept beating him and beating him and beating him," Lewis told the Boston Globe. "I only stepped in when he said 'I can't breathe!'" The cops responded by beating Lewis, too.

Freda Rivers, Nathaniel's mother, lamented the cops' actions as her son was arraigned for unlawful possession of a firearm the next day, his face bruised from the night before. "Mayor Thomas Menino is telling these kids to pick up guns and turn them in," she said. "Is this what's going to happen to them?"

Less than a month later, on June 18, the Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers, winning the NBA Championship.

After weeks of anticipation, the city erupted in celebration at the longstanding underdogs' win. In a city so divided by racism, it was amazing to see Black and white people from different neighborhoods converge downtown in a spirit of celebration and togetherness. The cops had other plans, though.

For weeks, they had been boasting of a huge presence downtown during the final games, and they out were in full force with riot gear during game six, when the Celtics won. The cops arrested 24 people that night, wielding clubs all the way.

In press conferences the next day, police and city spokespeople commended the cops on a job well done in keeping the streets safe. Eleven days later though, 22-year-old arrestee David Woodman died in a hospital from injuries suffered at the hands of the police.

According to police, Woodman had an open container on the night of the game, and he ran when the cops started chasing him. Because he "struggled," the police "were required to use force." The fact that Woodman had to be rushed to the hospital, where he went into a coma, speaks to the kind of force the cops used.

Nathaniel Rivers and David Woodman come from different places. Rivers is from the beleaguered Black neighborhood of Roxbury in Boston, and Woodman lived in the affluent, white suburb of Brookline. Tragically, both suffered at the hands of "Boston's finest," both were victims of police repression in the name of law and order, and both victims have been portrayed as the aggressors.

Whatever the pretexts for the repression, we should have no illusions that the cops will protect and serve us.
Khury Petersen-Smith, Boston

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