Boston March Against Hate Speech Avoids Charlottesville Chaos

BOSTON (Reuters) -
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (R) holds a news conference with William Evans, Boston Police commissioner, in the Boston Commons in Boston, Massachusetts, August 19. (Reuters/Stephanie Keith)

Thousands of people took to the streets of Boston on Saturday to protest hate speech a week after a woman was killed at a Virginia white-supremacist demonstration, and their shouts drowned out the “Free Speech” rally that sparked their march.

Organizers of the rally had invited several far-right speakers who were confined to a small pen that police set up in the historic Boston Common park to keep the two sides separate. The city largely avoided a repeat of last weekend’s bloody street battles in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one woman was killed.

City officials had spent a week planning security for the event, mobilizing 500 police officers, including many on bikes, and placing barricades and large white dump trucks on streets along the park, the nation’s oldest. They also banned sticks, including flagpoles, bats and all weapons.

The rally never numbered more than a few dozen people, and its speakers could not be heard due to the shouts of those protesting it and the wide security cordon between the two sides. It wrapped up about an hour earlier than planned.

Protesters surrounded people leaving the rally, shouting “shame” and “go home” at them and occasionally throwing plastic water bottles. Police escorted several rally participants through the crowds, sometimes struggling against protesters who tried to stop them.

Protesters, some dressed in black and with covered faces, several times swarmed rally attendees, including two men wearing the “Make America Great Again” caps from President Donald Trump’s campaign.

Protesters also threw rocks and bottles of urine at police dressed in riot gear.

A Reuters photographer saw police taking multiple protesters into custody.

“They heard our message loud and clear: Boston will not tolerate hate,” said Owen Toney, a 58-year-old community activist who attended the anti-racism protest. “I think they’ll think again about coming here.”

Tensions over hate speech have ratcheted up sharply after the Charlottesville clashes during the latest in a series of open white supremacist marches.

White nationalists had converged in the Southern university city to defend a statue of Robert E. Lee, who led the pro-slavery Confederacy’s army during the Civil War, which ended in 1865.

A growing number of U.S. political leaders have called for the removal of statues honoring the Confederacy, with civil rights activists charging that they promote racism. Advocates of the statues contend they are a reminder of their heritage.

Duke University removed a statue of Lee from the entrance of a chapel on its Durham, North Carolina campus, officials said Saturday.

Organizers of Saturday’s rally in Boston denounced the white supremacist message and violence of Charlottesville and said their event would be peaceful.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh briefly joined the crowd of thousands assembling for the march.

“These signs and the message so far this morning is all about love and peace,” Walsh told reporters. “That’s a good message.”

While Boston has a reputation as one of the nation’s most liberal cities, it also has a history of racist outbursts, most notably riots against the desegregation of schools in the 1970s.