A member from Teen Empowerment Boston performs a die-In on Washington Street and Columbia Road on Wednesday in Boston , MA. (Matt Stone/Boston Herald) May 17, 2023
Dozens of students left their classrooms to lay still in the Dorchester intersection of Columbia Road and Washington Street on Wednesday afternoon — a striking imitation of death meant to draw attention to the looming threat of violence in their communities.
“This die-in was done so we can grab your attention,” 15-year-old Brooke High School student Aniyah said in a speech to a crowd gathered. “We don’t want to keep losing our community members to violence. It could be me. It could be you. It could be any of us.”
The “Die-In” protest, organized by Teen Empowerment Boston and local teens, started around noon Wednesday with a walk-out from school and gathering at the intersection.
Protestors laid in the street for about five minutes and marched through the road to nearby Fenelon St. Playground, hearing speeches and performances from teens and local nonprofit leaders.
The idea for the die-in came out of conversations with over 300 teens from the area, who identified gun violence as one of the biggest issues effecting their lives, said Teen Empowerment Program Coordinator Fiona Phie.
“Last night I was on the phone with a mother who has lost her child,” said Phie. “It’s really significant that we have programs like this so that it doesn’t get to that point where there’s conflict, there’s beef, and there’s violence in the community. We need intervention and prevention.”
Organizers cited three main demands: unification amongst community members, restorative justice programs in all public schools and increased focus on allocating resources to violence intervention and increased community involvement/engagement in conflict resolution, mediation, and non-violent communication.
Student speakers also weighed in on the popular conversation about restoring police and implementing more metal detectors in BPS schools, pushing back on safety tactics that “criminalize” students.
“What really resonated with me is the over-policing in schools, the criminalization of students,” said 17-year-old protest attendee Bryant. “That really touched me on a personal level because I’ve experienced it firsthand. We need change.”
Students were supported by speakers from Massachusetts Advocates for Children and Citizens for Juvenile Justice, who spoke about mental health and restorative justice supports in schools to keep kids safe.
“What’s real safety?” said Leon Smith, executive director of CfJJ. “Real safety is meeting the needs of our young people where they are, getting what they need when they need it.”
The event also showcased young dancers and rappers with the organization, performing pieces with messages against violence.
Phi said the group is planning more events related to the Ceasefire Initiative going forward throughout the summer to bring the community together behind the cause.
“Anything less than peace is unacceptable,” Aniyah told the crowd.
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