What began with just a few demonstrators holding up signs at the intersection of Glades Road and Butts Road in Boca Raton ended with a peaceful standoff between hundreds of protesters and Florida State Troopers in riot gear.
Whispers began to circulate online early on Monday that there would be a Black Lives Matter protest staged at Town Center Mall. After days of protests throughout the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, including large demonstrations in Miami and West Palm Beach over the weekend that devolved into violence, the Boca Raton Police Department was taking no chances.
Town Center Mall was closed early at 2 p.m., and by 4:30 p.m. Boca police officers had blocked every entrance to the mall. With mall parking rendered inaccessible, protesters parked in nearby plazas and on the side of the road, slowly accumulating at the southwest corner of Glades Road and Butts Road.
At first, the group of demonstrators was relatively small and seemed contented by the supportive honking of cars that were passing by. By 7 p.m., the group of protesters had grown to a few hundred and was marching east towards I-95.
Though the protest was not particularly well organized (questions like “where is everyone?” were rampant early on,) many participants came well prepared. Some could be seen handing out bottles of water, bottles of milk (to be used in case of tear gas, which was thankfully never deployed,) and offering masks to those who weren’t already wearing them.
That the protest took place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic was not lost on any of those involved, with demonstrators and police alike donning masks and other forms of personal protective equipment. Though most protesters were not exercising 6-foot social distancing.
As the crowd of protesters reached the Glades Road overpass, they were met by a line of Florida State Troopers in riot gear. The troopers held the line and did not allow protesters to progress towards the I-95 onramp, and no violence ensued. As the crowd of demonstrators stalled, they broke out into a number of chants: “No justice; no peace,” “Hands up; don’t shoot,” and “Say his name; George Floyd,” all proved to be common refrains.
At one point, demonstrators on the westbound side of Glades Road laid on the ground with their hands behind their backs in protest.
Eventually, the line of Florida State Troopers took a knee, which seemed to be both an act of peace and a show of solidarity. It was a touching moment, and one that the vast majority of demonstrators in attendance seemed to truly appreciate.
Eventually, as the troopers continued to hold their line and the sun began to set, the chants faded away and the crowd began to disperse.
Though the disturbances and closures on and around Glades Road may have been an irritant for those who were displaced on their commutes tonight, we all ought to be thankful the protest that took place this evening never devolved into violence.
George Floyd’s life was honored today, peacefully, in Boca Raton. No one present was silent. No one present was complicit.
His life matters.