National attention focused on Boston Saturday as protesters planned to fill the streets to pronounce their opposition to bigotry and racism a week after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
Many were concerned that the protests in Boston would turn into riots, causing property damage and producing casualties — a repeat of evnts in Charlottesville that led ro one death and numerous injuries. The fear was that the violence would come to Boston, a major city where tens of thousands of angry anti-racist demonstrators were expected in the streets.
But after the marches concluded — more than 40,000 attended — those concerns seemed outsized. Boston’s city government and police force had allowed for a poorly attended so-called “Free Speech Rally,” which had ties to the white nationalist Virginia rally, as well as the counter-protests that far outnumbered the original event.
A ‘Free Speech Rally’ attendee is ushered through the crowd of protesters by police.
“I want to thank all the people that came out today,” said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. “I want to thank all the people that came out to share … that message of love not hate; to fight back on racism; to fight back on anti-Semitism; to fight back on the white supremacists that are coming to our city — on the Nazis that were coming to our city.”
Boston Commissioner William Evans seconded the mayor’s remarks, stating that “99.9 percent” of those in attendance were there to “fight bigotry and hate.” He noted that there were only 33 arrests, no serious injuries, no significant property damage and said that everything went according to plan.
The commissioner then shared some of the details of their plan — which seemed to start with avoiding the policing procedures used in Charlottesville.
“We didn’t want what had happened in Virginia to happen here,” Evans said. “We didn’t want them at each other’s throat.”
Charlottesville Police Chief Al S. Thomas Jr. defended his department’s response to the white nationalist mayhem that rocked his city last Saturday. He claimed the rally attendees did not follow the plan both sides had agreed to ahead of the event, forcing his officers to scramble and improvise.
Protesters gathered in Boston Common.
“It was a challenge,” Thomas said during a Monday press conference. “We were spread thin once the groups dispersed.” Some suggest they were merely overwhelmed, though Thomas has avoided such a statement.
In comparison, however, Boston’s police force includes more than 2,000 officers and hundreds of civilian personnel. Charlottesville — a town of 50,000 residents, a twelfth of Boston’s population — has less than 130 officers.
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