BOSTON — Boston officials said they were pleased with the mostly-peaceful protests which took over Boston Common and the surrounding area on Saturday.
Of the estimated 40,000 attendees, Boston Police said 33 were arrested for charges including assault and battery on police officers. Three people were found wearing ballistic vests, and one of those was armed, Police Commissioner William Evans said.
“99.9 percent of the people here were here for the right reason, and that is to fight bigotry and hate,” Evans said.
“I want to thank everyone who came here to express themselves in such a positive, great manner today,” said Mayor Marty Walsh.
The controversial “Free Speech Rally” on Boston Common was met with overwhelming counterprotests Saturday morning as thousands of people surrounded the cordoned-off bandstand and another 10,000 or more marched to the area from Roxbury.
Many feared the “Free Speech Rally” would actually be a white nationalist rally similar to the one that erupted in violence and left a woman dead in Charlottesville, Virginia, last week. Organizers, however, repeatedly disputed this comparison.
Several verbal confrontations were heard between counterprotesters and rally attendees as they tried to reach the bandstand. Some of the counterprotesters, who said it was their duty to support free speech, were seen helping the rally attendees through the dense crowd.
Eventually, however, the “Free Speech Rally” organizers decided to give up.
“I didn’t realize how unplanned of an event it was going to be,” said Samson Racioppi, a candidate for Congress who was on the list of speakers publicized by the rally organizers. “I really think it was supposed to be a good event by the organizers but it kinda fell apart.”
A few dozen people had gathered on the bandstand for the controversial rally, but reporters observed them departing around 12:45 p.m. A few minutes later, police were seen taking down the flags and other items that the rally organizers had hung on the bandstand.
Police escorted the rally attendees out of the area, but some physical conflicts were observed and a phalanx of officers in riot gear emerged near Emerson College as a show of force to quell the crowd.
At the same time, the “Fight Supremacy” march began to reach the area with 10,000 or more participants who were led into downtown from Roxbury, by organizers including Black Lives Matter and the Mass Community Action Network.
Boston-area leaders of Black Lives Matter said Friday that they did not accept claims from the organizers of the “Free Speech Rally.”
“For many years, they have ignored the problem and ignoring the problem is not going to make it go away,” said Boston-area Black Lives Matter co-organizer Monica Cannon.
“If this was really about free speech, we would have been invited from day one to speak and have a platform,” said Boston-area Black Lives Matter co-organizer Angelina Camacho.
The permit for Saturday’s event on Boston Common came with severe restrictions, including a ban on backpacks, sticks and anything that could be used as a weapon. Police also installed additional security cameras and barriers around the Common.
“If anything gets out of hand, we will shut it down,” Mayor Marty Walsh said.
As many people began to disperse, a small number of rowdy protesters came face-to-face with armored officers near Tremont and Boylston Streets. The officers were trying to make room for police vehicles to pass through.
Officers in that area were seen taking a small number of people into custody, restraining their hands with handcuffs or plastic ties.
Later Saturday afternoon, Boston’s police department tweeted that protesters were throwing bottles, urine and rocks at them and asked people publicly to refrain from doing so. About 10 minutes before that, President Donald Trump had complimented Boston police, tweeting: “Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart! Thank you.”
He also complimented Boston’s Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh.
Trump applauded the people in Boston who he said were “speaking out” against bigotry and hate. Trump added in a Twitter message that “Our country will soon come together as one!”
TV cameras showed a group of boisterous counterprotesters on the Common chasing a man with a Trump campaign banner and cap, shouting and swearing at him. But other counterprotesters intervened and helped the man safely over a fence into the area where the conservative rally was to be staged.
Black-clad counterprotesters also grabbed an American flag out of an elderly woman’s hands, and she stumbled and fell to the ground.
On Boston Common itself, however, a picnic atmosphere took over with stragglers tossing beach balls, banging on bongo drums and playing reggae music.