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Activists shut down Boston area highway: Protests too reckless?

Thursday’s protests, in which activists blocked traffic on Interstate 93 in the Boston area, forced an ambulance transporting a car-crash victim to detour.

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    Protesters sit near a barrel in a northbound lane during morning rush hour on Interstate 93 in Milton, Mass., Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015. The Boston contingent of Black Lives Matter said in a statement that the protest was intended 'to confront white complacency in the systemic oppression of black people in Boston.'
    Massachusetts State Police/AP
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Those protesting the state of US race relations shut down part of Interstate 93 in two places in the Boston area Thursday morning, causing major traffic jams.

The protests took place at a time when race relations have become the focus of numerous protest movements across America following the deaths of two black men, one in Missouri and one in New York, at the hands of white police officers. But after Thursday’s protests forced an ambulance transporting a car-crash victim to detour, some are questioning whether the protesters’ methods were too reckless.

“These are major routes for ambulances ... I know it doesn't matter to any of you guys but if someone dies because they cannot get to the hospital that Blood is on your hands and you are no different morally than the police officer in Ferguson,” complained one commenter on the Facebook page of the group Black Lives Matter Boston.

However, the activists claim that such disruptions are necessary to raise awareness about race relations in the United States, an awareness that might one day drive change.

“Disruptions wake people up a little bit from their privilege and insulation,” said Shannon Leary, one of the protesters, in a statement.  

“Our nonviolent direct action is meant to expose the reality that Boston is a city where white commuters and students use the city and leave, while black and brown communities are targeted by police, exploited, and displaced,” said Katie Seitz, another of the protesters, in a statement.

But some social media users said that protesters with the free time to organize such actions are the ones who are privileged.

“I guess the protesters who blocked I93 didn’t have to go to work. Support the right to protest but please don’t impact the lives of others,” tweeted Kathy Curran, investigative reporter for Boston television station WCVB.

“It’s an appalling way to protest. What are they protesting? People with jobs?” quipped another Twitter user.

Meanwhile, Philip Wood, a construction company owner doing work in the area, said he would have to send a dozen of workers home without pay because of the protests, The Boston Globe reported.

“All they do when they do something like this is alienate people to their cause,” Mr. Wood said.

Col. Timothy Alben, head of the Massachusetts State Police, expressed his support for the activists' right to protest but also said they had behaved thoughtlessly. “It’s not only immature and not only irresponsible, but ... reckless, and it’s endangering people’s lives,” he said at a press conference.

Six of the protesters attached themselves to four barrels filled with concrete, each weighing about 1,200 pounds. Others linked their arms together and walked into the middle of the road. Banners reading "End White Supremacy" were also hung on a bridge overlooking the motorway.

While the protesters who had linked arms were removed rather quickly, a little after 8 a.m., the protesters attached to the heavy barrels were not removed until 9.45 a.m. Police eventually used power saws to cut into the barrels and free the protesters, who wriggled in discomfort as they dodged sparks from the saws. Twenty-nine people were arrested and will be charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct, police said.

The activists came from a variety of social and ethnic backgrounds.

“As white people in the United States, we refuse to align ourselves with a state that carries out violence against Black people. We are taking direct action to challenge white complicity and amplify the demands for an end to the war on Black communities,” said Katie Martin Selcraig, a Massachusetts activist, in a statement.

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