Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

What’s Behind the “Straight Pride Parade” Courtroom Shenanigans in Boston?

Dozens of counter-protesters were arrested at the “straight pride parade.” What happened in the courts afterward?

Scott Cooper

September 12, 2019
Facebook Twitter Share

Boston on August 31 was the scene of a so-called “Straight Pride Parade” that drew just over 100 marchers. As Left Voice reported, it was actually a “white-supremacist, nationalist hate rally, bringing together the most racist, sexist, homo- and transphobic Trump supporters” organized by a group with strong ties to white nationalists. It also drew more than 1,000 counter-protesters—along with a massive police presence.

You may be interested in: Police Protect “Straight Pride Parade” and Attack Counter-Protesters

The cops were there for one purpose, and it wasn’t to “keep the peace.” It was to ensure the “safety” of the marchers. There’s no surer proof than the fact that the police ignored provocations and attacks by the marchers but pepper-sprayed, maced, punched, beat with batons, and ultimately arrested 36 counter-protesters—most for “disorderly conduct,” considered a “minor” charge.

A few days later, the scene shifted to Boston Municipal Court. Before Judge Richard Sinnott, Rachel Rollins, the Suffolk County district attorney, moved to dismiss the minor charges and pursue only those eight counter-protestors arrested for assault, including of cops. It’s a fairly typical thing in the United States: cops arrest demonstrators, and prosecutors drop the minor charges, sometimes in exchange for some “community service.” Rollins, it should be noted, ran for DA on a “reform” platform aimed explicitly at reducing the number of “low-level” nonviolent offenses charged by her office.

The judge was having none of it. He refused to allow Rollins to drop the charges, and when a defense attorney began to argue that he was overstepping his authority, he had her handcuffed and sent to a holding cell.

Rollins took the dispute to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and on September 9 the SJC ruled that Sinnott had “no authority” to force her to prosecute a counter-protestor, citing cases as far back as 1806 about the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive branch. The cheering from the American Civil Liberties Union and defense attorneys reverberated through the local legal community, while the cops—who in Sinnott’s courtroom had been celebrating—denounced the decision.

“Morale is probably at an all-time low between being used as political pawns and everyone looking down on the police,” said Michael Leary, president of the Boston patrolmen’s union. “It’s just not a good time to be a police officer.”

What’s really behind these courtroom battles? What do counter-protestors and those who support them have to celebrate?

To be sure, the fact that some counter-protestors will not be prosecuted is a good thing. The specific case brought before the SJC mentioned the lifelong harm that could result from having an arrest record. But that’s pretty much where the good stuff ends.

The courts—be they municipal courts or constitutional courts with extensive powers, such as the U.S. Supreme Court—comprise a judicial system designed, first and foremost, to protect and legitimize the social and economic relations established under capitalism. They exist to maintain the power of the state and keep it functioning on behalf of those who rule through their wealth and ownership. The courts are an integral part of subjugation. They reinforce every sort of oppression. They have always been the last line of ruling-class defense as people have struggled to overturn racism, sexism, and discrimination based on sexual orientation. They keep workers from organizing and striking. They do this by intervening directly but also by providing a “rule of law” that promotes the kind of reaction the ACLU and others had to the Massachusetts SJC ruling.

In other words, the courts do what is necessary to keep the capitalist system running smoothly. If they need to be relentless on behalf of those they serve, they do so. If in a given instance the calculation is to “give” a bit, they do so—as we saw in Boston.

It’s not every day that we get a concrete example of how that works in practice at the most immediate level, in a municipal court, and in an overtly and specifically political context.

Take note of what was completely absent from the courtroom dispute. There was nothing about the cops taking the side of the “Straight Pride” marchers. There was nothing about the massive amount of public funds spent to “protect” those marchers. There was nothing about the brutal police assault on counter-protestors. Judge Sinnott repeatedly brought up the Massachusetts Victim’s Rights Law, contending that the cops had been victims and thus had the right to be notified before dismissal of a case—despite no named victims in the police reports for the charges such as disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

The dispute was really about a municipal judge inserting himself in the way of the wink-and-a-nod system that has cops arrest demonstrators and then release them, which serves to reinforce the role of the police and send a message while not “gumming up the works” for overcrowded courts. In the end, the SJC ruling had everything to do with maintaining the prosecutor’s discretion to run that system the way it’s always been, and nothing to do with confronting the police. Meanwhile, those who take to the streets to confront the incipient fascist threat from “Straight Pride” and other actions will continue to face police brutality for doing so.

Whether it’s something relatively small, like dismissing “minor charges,” or national-level “criminal justice reform” aimed at confronting mass incarceration, if the people taking it on are politicians and prosecutors, you can be sure they’re just looking for a better way to maintain the system. It will be up to us to overturn it.

Facebook Twitter Share

Scott Cooper

Scott is a writer, editor, and longtime socialist activist who lives in the Boston area.

Guest Posts

“Angry, Terrified, and Excited”: A CUNY Adjunct Approaches A New Semester During Contract Bargaining

Adjuncts at CUNY are heading back to work without a new contract. One of these workers reflects on the poor conditions they will return to and their excitement to organize with their union for a better CUNY.

Red Labor Slate members running for NPC election in DSA 2023.

Red Labor’s 2023 Convention Slate: Toward an Independent, Working-Class Socialist Party and Programmatic Regroupment

The upcoming DSA National Convention is occurring at a crossroads for the organization. The Red Labor slate is running on a program of building an independent, working-class socialist political party.

Aaron Liu

July 27, 2023

Modi’s Far Right and Regional Crises Fuel Violence in Manipur, India

The conflict between the Kuki and Meitei ethnic groups in Manipur, India has led to displacements and deaths. Workers and struggling people from oppressed nationalities must unite against the warmongering bourgeois Indian state.


July 27, 2023

Northeastern Grad Workers Organize for a Union Despite Harassment and Intimidation

In preparation for a union vote in September, graduate student workers at Northeastern University held a rally which defied intimidation from the administration and campus cops.

Tarang Saluja

July 26, 2023


Neither Trump nor Biden Represent the Interests of the Striking Workers

Donald Trump skipped the second GOP debate to go to Michigan to speak on the UAW strike. This, one day after Biden became the first U.S. president to walk a picket line, represents the on-going fight between the parties to win influence over the working class.

Enid Brain

September 29, 2023

The Deadliest Year for U.S.-Mexico Border Crossings Occurred during Biden’s Administration

The humanitarian crisis at the border was created by capitalism. Voting for a lesser evil won’t save the Latin American working class; it will take international, political and strategic solidarity across borders to build a combative immigrants’ rights movement.

Paul Ginestá

September 28, 2023

The Big Three Are Using Layoffs to Punish the UAW and Undermine the Strike

The Big Three are retaliating against the UAW by laying off thousands of its members at plants across the country. Defeating these attacks will require the self organization and mobilization of all the workers.

James Dennis Hoff

September 28, 2023
President Biden visits striking UAW workers in Michigan.

Biden’s Picket Line Visit Doesn’t Mean He Is On Our Side

President Biden’s visit to the UAW picket line shows the strength of the strike — and why it should remain independent from him and the Democrats.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

September 27, 2023