UPDATED, Dec. 15: An estimated 400 people joined residents and town groups most of whom embraced the theme "Black Lives Matter" during a vigil Dec. 14, on three of the four corners at Mass. Ave. and Pleasant.

Organizers promised a peaceful response to recent events nationwide, particularly in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., and that it would not block traffic or pedestrians.

Black Lives Matter

That is how the rally came off, as police told attendees when they could cross the street, and participants followed their advice. With the sound of a horn, signaling the protest's end, rallygoers crossed Mass. Ave. and Pleasant wishing officers well. The officers did the same.

Before the vigil, as a crowd gathered under the maple tree at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, a series of speakers set the tone. One of them, the Rev. Mikel Satcher of Arlington, formerly of Trinity Baptist Church and now of Andover Newton Theological School, said: "Yes, black lives matter, but justice matters."

Bonie Bagchi Williamson, co-chair of the town's Arlington 2020 Diversity Task Force, read a famous plea by Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor who opposed the Nazis:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

The Rev. Marta Morris Flanagan of First Parish made clear those involved had no grievance with local police. In fact, she said, Chief Fred Ryan helped organize the vigil.

Lama Sonam of Drikung Meditation Center in Arlington held a tapestry and rang a small gong, reflecting his Tibetan heritage.

Anne Goodwin, a member and former board chair of First Parish and a member of the UUlations women's vocal music group, led the singing before and after.

According to Douglass Davidoff, of Arlington, Williamson became the event's senior town official by default. "When powers that be wanted to organize a witness in a timely way," he wrote, 'they realized that last Monday's [Dec. 8] Diversity Task Force meeting agenda could be altered in time to properly notice a public discussion about planning a witness.

"Thus, the [task group] became the town body leading the charge, because the calendar worked out that way. Several members of the Arlington Human Rights Commission attended last Monday's meeting and coordinated with Bonie, but our board doesn't meet until this week and thus we never set a policy to officially sponsor the event.

"Chief Ryan was at that meeting so police were involved from the get-go. We also knew well in advance about the conflict with the traffic signal, and everyone accommodated to everyone else ... without incident, so far as I know."
Organizing the event, with its surprising turnout on a sunny Sunday, were the Vision 2020 Diversity Task Group, the town Human Rights Commission, First Parish Unitarian Universalist, and other town groups and individuals committed to social justice.

The event was expected to be moved from Arlington Center because traffic-light work there, but police agreed to let it remain near First Parish on sidewalks from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

The protest had its own protesters, of sorts: One heckler stood behind rallygoers near Cambridge Savings mocking their efforts. A Town Meeting member held a sign suggesting that human right should extend to all, a point on which speakers agreed.

Dec. 14: Word on the Street weighs in

Doug Davidoff's Storify compilation

Channel 5 report

Dec. 14: Police in Boston arrest 23

Dec. 7: 150 in Lexington decry racism

NAACP leader comments

Neil Osborne, president of the Mystic Valley Area Branch NAACP, wrote Friday, Dec. 12: "You may not be able to make it to Washington D.C. on Saturday, but if you feel the need to voice your concern in public and in a peaceful manner ,then the Arlington on Sunday is the place to be.

"The NAACP is not a sponsor if this event, nor have we initiated the other public standouts against deadly force against unarmed black men.

"As a member of the Mystic Valley NAACP branch, you are free as an individual to participate in any public rally and proudly proclaim your membership and affiliation with the Mystic Valley Area Branch of the NAACP.

"If you come please find me - so we can stand together."

Schools offer support to students

In a related matter, schools' Superintendent Kathleen Bodie wrote Friday, Dec. 12, in an email to parents and guardians:

"These past few weeks have been a difficult time in our country in the aftermath of the Ferguson and New York grand jury decisions. I am aware that some of our students have felt scared, angry and confused. The media images of ongoing protests can be frightening to children. If any of your children are experiencing difficulty at this time, please know that there is at least one social worker in each school who is available to talk with your son/daughter.

"Conversations with students about these events have been taking place in our schools and will continue in different age-appropriate ways.

"Race is a difficult topic to discuss for many of us. Often we do not know how to begin these conversations, particularly with our children. And yet, recent events have presented us with the opportunity and urgency to have these conversations and to be able to answer questions honestly and openly with our children. Below are links to two articles that you may find helpful.

They are here and here.

Facebook >>

This announcement was published Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014, and updated Dec. 15.