A fascinating find from some BMGers with long memories (thanks, bob-gardner and methuenprogressive). In the spring of 1981, Proposition 2-1/2 was wreaking havoc on municipal budgets and resulted in a number of layoffs, including police and firefighters. People were upset, and firefighters in particular were not interested in playing nice. April 29, 1981 (all links are behind the Globe archive paywall):
Major roads into Boston were temporarily blocked during this morning’s rush hour by protesters of cutbacks in the city’s police and fire departments, causing massive traffic jams on major and alternate routes and delaying commuters….
However, no injuries were reported nor were any arrests made during the morning demonstrations.
The first demonstration began about 7 when some 100 placard-carrying men emerged from Florian Hall on Hallet street, Dorchester – home of Boston Firefighters Union Local 718 of the International Assn. of Firefighters – and climbed an embankment to the Southeast Expressway.
Walking about 15 abreast, the group proceeded northbound on the Expressway toward Neponset Circle, blocking all inbound traffic for 20 minutes, until they reached the Neponset on-ramp.
At that point, the demonstrators walked down the up ramp and, for about three minutes, blocked traffic headed northbound on Morrissey boulevard with a 30-foot wide banner carried by 10 men that read: “Help! Save Jobs That Save Lives.” …
One of the leaders of the demonstration, Richard Besse, an off-duty Boston firefighter, surveyed the results of the Dorchester demonstration and called it “terrific. . . . This is what we wanted to do to get our message across.”
These demonstrations were not just a one-day affair, and they were not limited to a single roadway. Here’s a story from May 1, 1981, two days later:
The ranks of the Boston, state and MDC police were spread thin this morning as police tried to curb growing demonstrations protesting cuts in Boston police and fire department personnel.
Demonstrators were successful in delaying morning rush-hour traffic for as much as a half hour by blocking the Southeast Expressway at Neponset Circle, Morrissey boulevard and Columbia road at Kosciuszcko Circle in Dorchester, Soldiers Field road at the former Coca Cola plant in Brighton, the Sumner Tunnel at the East Boston end and City Square in Charlestown.
And many of the demonstrators promised to return Monday.
The blocking of Kosciuscko Circle caught many drivers by surprise as they attempted to use Morrissey boulevard to bypass the Neponset Circle blockade on the expressway.
About 7:30 a.m., some 30 persons, mostly women, began blocking cars at Kosciuszcko Circle. Almost immediately, 10 MDC patrolmen, several with riot sticks at the ready, pushed the demonstrators from the roadway.
A number of the women began yelling obscenities at the officers and one called out: “Why don’t you take off your uniform and come and meet my husband.”
As cars passed the demonstrators, the protesters called out to the drivers, “Ten bucks if you hit them,” referring to the police officers in the intersection.
Remarkable. Can you imagine the reaction if this week’s protesters had cursed at the police and encouraged motorists to hit them?
The next day, May 2, 1981, the Globe had this story:
Traffic was stopped on nine main arteries into the city yesterday, the most roads to be blocked by the demonstrators since they began protesting three weeks ago.
Some of the tieups were created on roads or at traffic interchanges where the demonstrators had not struck before, including Kosciuszko Circle and Pulaski Circle, both in Dorchester, Soldiers Field road at the former Coca Cola bottling plant in Allston, and Memorial drive in Cambridge and Storrow drive in Boston.
The demonstrators also stopped traffic on the Southeast Expressway and Neponset Circle in Dorchester, on the East Boston approaches to the Sumner Tunnel, and at City Square, all scenes of earlier protests.
And here, from the same story, is perhaps the most interesting part of all this:
No arrests have been made since the protests began on April 10, when the city’s cutbacks in fire and police personnel and closing of some fire and police stations went into effect.
Boston Police Comr. Joseph Jordan yesterday defended his department’s policy of making no arrests.
“We’ve had demonstrations for the last 15 years,” Jordan said. “Our policy has always been to make an arrest only in cases where there is an aggressive, hostile demonstration and these demonstrations have been peaceful.”
Wow. Weeks of protests, including several straight days of protests in which major roads were repeatedly blocked, and not a single arrest. Is it possible that there were no arrests because the police, although charged with trying to keep the roadways open, were basically in sympathy with the protesters? Or have policies regarding when to arrest protesters changed over the years? I don’t know, and I would be very interested in hearing from someone who does.