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On an early Thursday morning on January 15, I received a phone call from my father, who was supposed to be working in Boston as a fire lieutenant. I quickly learned that he couldn’t drive to work that morning because Interstate 93 (Massachusetts’ main expressway into Boston) had been “turned into a parking lot.” A handful of protestors affiliated with the activist group Black Lives Matter had chained themselves inside of 55-gallon barrels that were filled with concrete, blocking the expressway in protest. I could not believe what I was hearing.
Traffic backed up for hours until the protestors were cut free by emergency responders. Until then, many simply had to wait in a standstill, leaving most commuters extremely late to work. An ambulance carrying a trauma patient headed to Boston Medical Center even had to be diverted to a local hospital that lacked a trauma center due to the backup.
This winter, protests swept the nation mainly in response to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” became commonplace, and many demonstrations took place by Harvard students and throughout Cambridge. But there is a difference between a protest that has the right cause and a protest that, regardless of the legitimacy of its cause, has the right implementation. What happened on the I-93 certainly lacked the latter characteristic. That is not the way to protest.
While the 1-93 protest certainly gained publicity, it was wrong for protestors to block a busy highway during the heart of a morning commute. While some might argue that it only caused minor, negligible inconveniences in comparison to the cause, I disagree.
First, the initial moments when the protestors hopped onto a busy highway could easily have created a pileup during the early morning commute. Not only would this have been a major inconvenience, but any resulting injuries could have put lives in danger—a rather self-defeating result from an attempt to protest a loss of lives. Second, creating a diversion of the city’s emergency responders is irresponsible. It is costly, and what's more the pure time that fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances had to stay on the scene took away from their availability elsewhere. In emergency response situations, every minute counts, and the protestor’s actions could easily have made the difference between life and death.
Finally, and most importantly, the forced ambulance diversion demonstrates exactly why our society has certain structures that protestors should think twice about before disrupting. Richard McGrath luckily survived his single car crash with only a fractured neck and broken ribs, but if he had died, a new tragedy would have arisen. If McGrath had not been able to access the level one trauma center at Boston Medical Center in time, the protestors would have held the blame. Again, it would have been inexplicable, tragic, and hypocritical to have caused an unneeded death by protesting unneeded deaths.
29 arrests were made that day, and rightfully so. There are times and places to protest, and there are times and places in which it should certainly not be allowed. We all came out of that Thursday with only enraged commuters and irritated emergency responders, but if something like this were to happen again on an equal or perhaps an even higher scale, we may not be so lucky.
No matter how genuine the cause, protests simply cannot happen without reflective planning. Protests like the one on I-93 only polarize the very people they are trying to recruit, and bring well-warranted backlash on the protestors themselves, instead of the causes they support.
Jake C. Montoya ’17, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Currier House.
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