A “Free Speech” rally organised by the far-right was dwarfed by tens of thousands of protesters in a face-off which grew heated but remained mostly non-violent. At least 33 people were arrested, largely for “scuffles”.

Counter-protesters clash with police near a
Counter-protesters clash with police near a "Free Speech" rally staged by conservative activists, Saturday, August 19, 2017, in Boston.

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 organisers 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.

“I think it is clear today that Boston stood for peace and love, not bigotry and hate,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

TRT World's Tetiana Anderson reports.

Saturday's showdown in Boston was mostly peaceable, and after demonstrators dispersed, a picnic atmosphere took over with stragglers tossing beach balls, banging on bongo drums and playing reggae music.


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, mobilising 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 “Free Speech” 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.

Arrests

At least 33 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 and that was to fight bigotry and hate for the most part here today.”

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," Owen Toney, a 58-year-old community activist who attended the anti-racism protest. "I think they'll think again about coming here."

US tensions over hate speech have ratcheted up sharply after the latest in a series of white supremacist marches.

White nationalists had converged in Charlottesville 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 US political leaders have called for the removal of statues honouring the Confederacy, with civil rights activists charging that they promote racism. Advocates of the statues contend they are a reminder of their heritage.

Organisers 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."

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.

Rallies in other cities 

Counter-protesters marched through New Orleans, some of them carrying signs that read "White People Against White Supremacy" and "Black Lives Matter." And in Atlanta, a diverse crowd marched from the city's downtown to the home of the late Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

In California, a rally was held near the famed Venice beach boardwalk in Los Angeles and an anti-racism rally was held in Laguna Beach.

In Silicon Valley, more than 500 people gathered in Mountain View in response to a far-right "March on Google" to rally against the technology company's firing of a white male software engineer over his claim that women were biologically unsuited to tech jobs. Organisers postponed the right-wing march, alleging threats from leftists.

In Dallas, a scuffle broke out between people at a rally against white supremacy and supporters of Confederate monuments as the event was ending. Police officers had to subdue the crowd.

The rally, which authorities estimated 2,300 people attended, was at City Hall plaza, near a Civil War cemetery that houses a memorial to Confederate soldiers.

Reverend Michael W Waters, one of the speakers at the rally, said: "Now is the time to do what is right in the city of Dallas. Now is the time to bring these monuments down."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies