This open letter was submitted by an active Boston Police Department Member in response to our opinion piece published on December 19th, the identify of the author is withheld for their own protection however we have confirmed it internally.
Dear People of Boston,
Are we perfect? Absolutely not, perfection is hard to come by in any high stress work environment. Do we make mistakes, sure we do, but that is a flaw of every human. And that is what we are, human. We are your sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, neighbors and friends. We are human.
Let me walk you through how the night of May 31st started for us… Myself and my partners were in the parking lot of our station off of Harrison Ave waiting, and by waiting I mean with every passing minute my hopes for a peaceful night slowly slipped away. I’ve never served in the military but one of my partners did and he compared the waiting similar to how he felt when he was deployed, the longer we waited the more the eerie feeling of impending doom crept up on us. We had the citywide radio channel on in our cruiser and truth is we could hear it in the voices of the officers downtown, it was getting bad, quick. There wasn’t anything I could exactly put my finger on but there was this feeling I just couldn’t shake that the storm was coming. I wasn’t working that day, but many of my fellow officers compared the feeling to the same feeling leading up to the destruction in the City of Boston Marathon Bombings.
As we sat in the parking lot waiting for our orders, the radio traffic got worse and worse. Officers began requesting assistance, dispatchers kept assuring them that help was on the way but then another officer would call out for help at a different location. The help requested couldn’t get to the first officer because more and more officers began asking for help, and those going in to assist were finding themselves in trouble. The asking turned into pleading, then the pleading turned into begging, and then that begging turned into chilling screams. Then those screams turned into some of the most eerie radio transmissions I have ever heard. It didn’t stop, and with the entire Boston Police Force in tow we made our way as quickly and safely as possible towards the Downtown Area. I remember it like it was yesterday, one of my partners was telling me the best directions, while another started saying “we need to stay together, whatever happens, wherever we end up, us, this group, we stay together at all costs.” The fear for our safety in his voice was palpable.
If you aren’t a little spooked by that then you’re a lot stronger than I am. I get it, things get tough on this job and could get a hell of a lot worse, but this was actually scary, this didn’t feel like a normal radio call, didn’t feel a traffic stop, didn’t feel like a building an alarm going off or even a call for a person shot, this felt like war. This felt like there were people that were intent to destroy the city I call home, willing to loot from stores that were owned by their neighbors, willing to burn, vandalize, and destroy anything that was in front of them with no regard for anyone but themselves. As we arrived downtown one of my partners suggested we park our cruiser as far as possible away from the problems, so we wouldn’t get trapped if we needed to retreat. At that point the idea of cruisers being completely destroyed hadn’t even crossed our minds, maybe some slashed tires or spray paint, but surely not firebombs. So we parked further away and ran towards the mayhem. We met up with a ten person bike unit that consisted of out of town officers, along with a higher ranking Boston Police officer and informed them we were here to help.
We continued on with our group of maybe 15 officers, 15 officers running towards potentially tens of thousands of angry protestors directly in front of us. Within 30 seconds I was hit in the face with a water bottle that was filled with some type of bodily fluid, I wiped it off my face shield and kept holding the line. We began attempting to move back the protestors and try and hold ground thinking if we kept them away from the stores the looting might stop. I guess we were successful at first but eventually we failed. People fail, it’s normal, but we kept trying. Did some situations get messy? Already told you about the water bottle so what do you think? It sure did, it got very messy. A random person came up to us and said “there is a cop in that car that needs your help” as we looked over we saw multiple protestors breaking the window of a cruiser, throwing cement flower plants through the windshield. My first thought was, “There is no way there is a cop in there, this protestor is trying to get more cops around that cruiser so they pick us off.” I was wrong, right after thinking that, I heard the cries for help over the radio from the officer that was trapped and surrounded in that vehicle. Those sounds from that night on the radio, some of the scariest, terrifying, and nerve wracking things I will ever hear.
Luckily, we were able to communicate with the officer stuck over the radio and get him out of there. The cruiser took some bruises but you bet your ass we saved that too. Why you may ask? Because it has blue on it, it says Boston police on it, it’s our car, it’s the people’s car, it’s a car that belongs to every person in this city that relied on us to protect their property, their safety and it’s what we do. When it gets bad we don’t give up. The officer had to drive the cruiser back to the station with his face shield on and a face mask because the glass from the shattered window was flying into his eyes. We tried to remove the windshield as much as possible but we only were able to get some. I looked at him and said “Don’t stop, just get back there safe.”
Once again, that’s where my mind was. This was the furthest thing from a peaceful protest. I never studied the human brain and how it reacts to nerves and stress but I’m pretty sure that was a prime example of it. It was scary and people think that we are robots that train in our academy how to hurt people in riot training but that’s not it. We reacted, we reacted to the city burning, our city burning. We are you brothers, sons, wives, neighbors. This is our city too, it’s more than just a job. After we regained control of a street we would wait and within what felt like seconds the next screams for help would come across the radio. As we waited I looked up towards the Beantown Pub and all I could see was fire. Not a garbage fire, I’m talking about an explosion, it was something I didn’t think I would see unless this city was unlucky enough to be attacked by some type of domestic terrorism group again.
You would think that was the worst, but it wasn’t. Street by street, attempting to gain control and losing it, holding the line and officers yelling “Coming in!” referring to bricks, frozen water bottles, fireworks, and other objects being thrown at us. Once again our minds went to a state of war, a state of battle fighting for control of the city of Boston. I was right next to a coworker of mine and colleague when a large firework went off directly between his legs. It felt surreal, something I would never expect, people using these devices as explosive weapons against us. Once again that fear grew larger, we dragged him out of the street and into cover, not knowing where the next attack would come from. Propping him up we waited for EMT’s to come take him to the hospital. As we waited he just kept saying “I can’t hear anything,” but was he done? No. He began to toss his helmet back on, buckled it and tried to get back into the fight.
Why you ask? Because we stay in the fight, it’s what we train on and what we learn, we don’t learn how to hurt people with sticks, we don’t learn how to injure people, we learn and train to stay in the fight and do so until enough help arrives to regain control. The calls kept coming in for help and we kept after it. With just a quick glance at my 3 partners or them to me we would confirm a location, “temple street, let’s go”, and head off running. We ran towards that fight because we knew those officers were in the middle of it and they were staying in that fight until help arrived. That night it didn’t matter who it was, we were all each other’s help. We were outnumbered, we got hurt and we were scared. What usually happens when that fear begins to go away and you realize help is here? I would say based off my experiences, you get jittery and all that built up energy leaves your body, you sometimes say things, blurt things out, try and remember what you just went to, maybe joke about it, exaggerate it, make it seem less scary but in your mind you know one thing.
I was scared, but I got though it. Cops aren’t perfect, I’m not perfect, everyone knows that there are things we can do to be better, but one thing I can tell you is that fear was something that most officers had never felt during their time at the Boston Police Department. That fear was there, not all may admit it nor show it, but it was there, we did what we needed to do as best as possible to stop the madness, to stop the looting and burning. To protect our city, your city.
I was approached by a woman, who happened to be a minority business owner, her two stores were destroyed, she told me she was barely able to stay open due to other financial reasons, but she knew tonight would be the last night. She couldn’t afford to recover. Was this the only store? How many stores would have closed if police officers and the national guard didn’t respond that night? The lady handed me a water and I thanked her and took a sip, the first thing I noticed was my hand shaking, I asked myself why and it was because of fear, it comes in many forms. I felt it with my hand shaking, I felt it when that explosive went off, I felt it when the bricks were flying in. It wasn’t always a hand shaking, it might have been in the form of a headache, or in the form of dizziness, but it was there the whole time.
I was out of it, I didn’t feel myself, I looked to my right and my three partners were there. I was lucky again, we did what we said we were gonna do. We stayed together, stayed safe and did our best to protect the city we love. We walked back to our cruiser and I grabbed my phone, text messages and phone calls were through the roof, I said to myself “not everyone hates us”. We got back in the car to make our way back to the station. It was quiet, we all checked to make sure we had everything and returned back to our station. I walked in and checked in with my boss. What I saw was what makes this department the best in the nation. Officers on off-days, guys who had worked the day and had just got home had come back to volunteer to help. Officers that were home sitting at home with their families, safe, seeing the destruction on the news and choosing to put their uniform on and come back in.
What politician would do that? What Twitter blogger would do that? What TV personality or pundit would choose to leave their families and run head first into the worst of it?
The loudest voices of dissent come from those who would never run into the violence, the chaos, or take the risk of never coming home to their spouse and kids. They sit back and observe from afar and wait for the smallest mistake and critique it, trying to make a name for themselves off the smallest misstep. I get it, that’s the job you created in your head, it works for you, but that doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t work for my colleagues and it doesn’t work for the people of Boston who needed us that night. I looked at my partner and he said, “Back here at 9 tomorrow?” I thought I would be miserable, I thought I would be pissed and just need to sleep, but no, I was ready. They wanna try this shit again tomorrow? I’ll be here. We will all be here. We might be scared but we will be there and we will keep being there for every call. Every time we’re needed we will show up.
When we try our best, things may not always go the best way, but we’ll learn, correct it, and we will get better, but until the day we become perfect, we will keep being there and keep trying our best.
Do I still feel this? Sure do, I’m sure a lot of people do. I’m writing this 7 months after and I can still feel that fear and pain, it doesn’t go away, it stays but I’ve learned to deal with it. Seeing what these politicians and pundits say makes every day harder but I keep pushing through. We stay in the fight, same as that night, and we know that help comes, whatever way, eventually that help comes. Nowadays we will take whatever help we can get, however, because we aren’t getting much help. But to those that do support us, it means everything. We know people don’t like us, many flat out hate us simply because of the badge we wear, but people need to realize what we go through, and why. Why we put our lives on the line. We do that because we care about our city, about every life in this city. I could write a book about the failures on both sides of that night but I’m not some journalist seeking headlines, I just wanna show up and protect our city without feeling that fear that I felt that night.
So thank you to those who were willing to take the time and read this, when so many of our politicians would rather just vilify us rather than hear our story we don’t know how else to be heard. Thank you for taking the time to listen whether you are a fan of us or not. Just be educated, informed and then make your judgments, we are people too. We are your neighbors, we are your sisters and brothers. We are all around and we also need your support.
– A Proud Boston Police Officer