Boston march against hate speech avoids
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[August 21, 2017]
By Scott Malone and Nate Raymond
BOSTON (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of
people took to the streets of Boston on Saturday to protest a "free
speech" rally featuring far-right speakers a week after a woman was
killed at a Virginia white-supremacist demonstration.
Rally organizers 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 avoided a repeat of last
weekend's bloody street battles in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one
woman was killed.
Police estimated that as many as 40,000 people packed into the streets
around the nation's oldest park.
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, aiming to deter
car-based attacks like those seen in Charlottesville and Europe.
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" and occasionally throwing plastic water bottles. Police escorted
several rally participants through the crowds, sometimes struggling
against protesters who tried to stop them.
Some people dressed in black with covered faces several times swarmed
rally attendees, including two men wearing the "Make America Great
Again" caps from President Donald Trump's campaign.
The violence in Charlottesville triggered the biggest domestic crisis
yet for Trump, who provoked ire across the political spectrum for not
immediately condemning white nationalists and for praising "very fine
people" on both sides of the fight.
On Saturday, Trump on Twitter praised the Boston protesters.
"I want to applaud the many protesters in Boston who are speaking out
against bigotry and hate. Our country will soon come together as one!"
Trump tweeted. "Our great country has been divided for decades.
Sometimes you need protest in order to heal, & we will heal, & be
stronger than ever before!"
Thirty-three people were arrested, largely for scuffles in which some
protesters threw rocks and bottles of urine at police dressed in riot
gear, the Boston Police Department said.
"There was a little bit of a confrontation," Police Commissioner William
Evans told reporters, adding that "99.9 percent of the people who were
here were here for the right reasons."
Several protesters said they were unsurprised that the "Free Speech"
event broke up early.
"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."
U.S. tensions over hate speech have ratcheted up sharply after the
Charlottesville clashes during the latest in a series of white
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A counter protester reacts during clashes with Boston Police outside
of the Boston Commons and the Boston Free Speech Rally in Boston,
Massachusetts, U.S., August 19, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
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.
Organizers of Saturday's rally in Boston denounced the white
supremacist message and violence of Charlottesville and said their
event would be peaceful.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Shiva Ayyadurai spoke at the rally,
surrounded by supporters holding "Black Lives Matter" signs.
"We have a full spectrum of people here," Ayyadurai said in a video
of his speech posted on Twitter. "We have people from the Green
Party here, we have Bernie (Sanders) supporters here, we've got
people who believe in nationalism."
Protesters also gathered on Saturday evening in Texas. In Dallas,
where a Lee statue was vandalized overnight, about 3,000 people
rallied near City Hall to demonstrate against white supremacy.
"Tear them down," they chanted, referring to statues of Confederate
A man who appeared waving a Confederate flag was quickly surrounded
by demonstrators. "Shame on you," they chanted. Police officers
escorted the man away a few minutes later as the crowd cheered.
In Houston, a chapter of Black Lives Matter organized a rally to
call for the removal of a "Spirit of the Confederacy" monument from
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.
Karla Venegas, a 22-year-old who recently moved to Boston from
California, said she was not surprised that the Free Speech rally
petered out so quickly.
"They were probably scared away by the large crowd," Venegas said.
(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus, Jonathan Allen in New York,
Lisa Maria Garza in Dallas and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles,;
Editing by Mary Milliken, Lisa Von Ahn and Lisa Shumaker)
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