Back Bay and Downtown Crossing are rebounding following a day of peaceful protests that devolved into vandalism and arrests

It is as if Boston’s Back Bay and Downtown Crossing lived through a week in just 24 hours when, earlier this week, the city saw a day of three peaceful marches to protest the death of a Minneapolis man while in police custody only to have the night end in vandalism and looting in Boston.

What followed, however, showed the city’s true spirit as residents, business owners, and other volunteers joined city crews to clean up from the protests and get ready as the second phase of the openings from the COVID-19 shutdowns takes place.

A day of peaceful protests in Boston was followed by a night of unrest in the Back Bay and Downtown Crossing. Thomas Brennan photo

The vandalism and chaos coming on the heels of the pandemic was a tough sequence for the business community to endure. “The thing is that most of the businesses on Newbury Street and Boylston Street really do support what the marchers and protesters were working for,” said a manager of the Back Bay boutique who asked not to be named in this article. “I don’t think one act of vandalism was caused by the marchers. That came later.”

It did.

The upheaval that started after Sunday’s initially well-organized and peaceful Black Lives Matter protests spread out to various areas of Downtown Crossing and the Back Bay after 9 p.m., not long after the 6:30 protest march had made its way from Roxbury to the State House on Beacon Hill.

Some businesses were boarded up before Sunday night’s vandalism and others were boarded up on Monday and Tuesday so that the stores could reopen. Photo by Thomas Brennan

Some businesses, including the Apple store on Boylston and some three dozen on Washington Avenue, had boarded up their locations prior to Sundays marches. When things opened up on Monday, it appeared that most of the damage had been vandalism such as smashed store windows and graffiti.

Crews, both volunteer and city of Boston employees, had picked up most of the garbage by mid-afternoon Monday, with a week of work scheduled from cleaning the monuments slated for Wednesday and Thursday and grass cutting on Thursday.

Crews were out throughout the weekend an into the first part of the week preparing for and cleaning up from the protest marches that turned violent. Photo by Thomas Brennan

By the end of the week, Governor Charlie Baker had sent members of the Massachusetts National Guard to the Back Bay, where they could be seen on Newbury and Boylston streets, to assist the city in keeping the peace while businesses worked for the second phase of the re-opening.

Even with the pandemic precautions, larges groups of people came out to assist and help out in the restoration of public areas. They were more than successful on various measures, and had accomplished a great deal of cleanup by Monday afternoon.

In regards to trash and litter, the common actually seemed more tidy than usual. The various taglines along the streets, sidewalks, buildings’ walls and windows were still present.

The cleanup from vandalism continued while crews also worked to get ready to reopen for the first wave of business. Photo by Tom Brennan

Some businesses turned the vandalism into a positive thing like the Back Bay real estate office that tapped an artist to paint a beautiful piece over some graffiti.  There are still positive signs of the revitalization of the city and strong signs of the city’s ongoing spirit for betterment.

The only real efforts on Monday to wash the graffiti were reserved for the painted inscriptions along the State House. Though most, such as ones along the bridge public gardens, were washed away by Tuesday. The city has put in a considerable effort to wipe away any vestige of the tags. It’s a large-scale endeavor, though Boston seems more than committed to see these painted words to be scrubbed away. Those they haven’t wiped out, they’ve seemingly covered to clean at a later date.

Windows are being boarded up at various ground level stores. Many were initially done to cover just the stores that were damaged or the graffiti tagged alongside the buildings. The CVS on Newbury experienced a large amount of graffiti and has boarded their windows. The cover precaution is being extended by various businesses and store widows that did and didn’t experience damage.

The CVS on Newbury Street was covered with graffiti and later boarded up. Photo by Tom Brennan

A fair share of affected businesses are still open, though open hours are far more limited now. The constant drone of helicopters and the arrival of military police has also added a contentious obstacle to the city’s and day-to-day functionality. The fact things are still running and adapting does provide some semblance of hope for businesses to still be reopening despite being boarded up or experiencing vandalism. Other businesses can follow suit. Although it might be a little less sunny with windows blocked out, there’s still the chance for citizens to return and support local businesses.

City crews and scores of volunteers worked hard to get Boston Common cleared of debris following Sunday night. Photo by Thomas Brennan

Various businesses were damaged, but broken glass can be cleaned up, paint can be washed away, wooden boards can be taken down. These are all things that are coverable or at the very least fixable within the long term. There are many deeper core issues to face within Boston before proper freedom and equality can be restored to every citizen who calls this city home.

City crews and volunteers helped get the Ugg store cleaned up after it had been looted on Sunday night. Photo by Thomas Brennan


  1. Very well written! I enjoy reading the articles by Thomas Brennan. The way he writes captures the whole picture for me. I like how he shows the communities coming together during this horrible time in the world.

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