Saturday, August 19, 2017

Counterprotesters Surge Into Boston, Overshadowing Rally

Demonstrators gathered for a rally at Boston Common on Saturday. Credit Hilary Swift for The New York Times
BOSTON — Thousands of demonstrators, emboldened and unnerved by the fatal eruption of violence in Virginia last weekend, surged into the nation’s streets and parks on Saturday to denounce white supremacy and Nazism.
The demonstrations were loud but broadly peaceful, even as tensions and worries coursed through protests that unfolded from Boston Common, the nation’s oldest public park, to Hot Springs, Ark., and the bridges that cross the Willamette River in Portland, Ore. Other protests were expected on Saturday in Chicago, Dallas and Houston.
Boston faced dueling demonstrations, but a rally to promote “free speech” was brief and unamplified. It was undercut by police planning and starved by an enormous buffer zone between protesters and their opponents, many of whom had feared that the rally would become a haven for neo-Nazis and white nationalists.
“This city has a history of fighting back against oppression, whether it’s dumping tea in the harbor or a bunch of dudes standing around with bandannas screaming at neo-Nazis,” said a 21-year-old protester in Boston who would identify himself only as “Frosty” and wore an American flag to obscure much of his face.
Saturday’s demonstrations, one week after a 32-year-old woman died amid clashes between white nationalists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va., occurred as the nation was again confronting questions about race, violence and the standing of Confederate symbols.
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President Trump, who has faced unyielding, and bipartisan, criticism after he said there was “blame on both sides” in Charlottesville, wrote on Twitter on Saturday that it appeared there were “many anti-police agitators in Boston.”
“Police are looking tough and smart!” he continued. “Thank you.”
Law enforcement officials were on alert, wary of being seen as irresolute and ineffective after the protests in Virginia turned fatal when someone drove a car through a crowd of protesters. Officers patrolled on bicycles, on foot and from helicopters. In some instances, officers in riot gear faced off with demonstrators and tried to maintain order. There were some scuffles and arrests.
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Demonstrators marching toward Boston Common on Saturday. Credit Stephanie Keith/Reuters
The epicenter of the weekend’s demonstrations appeared to be here in Boston, where the Common had been the expected setting for a pair of protests, including one that the Boston Free Speech Coalition organized before the Charlottesville violence. Organizers said they were appealing to “libertarians, conservatives, traditionalists, classical liberals, Trump supporters or anyone else who enjoys their right to free speech.”
But supporters of the free speech rally, scheduled for noon, faced thousands of counterprotesters, many of whom marched toward the Common from the Roxbury neighborhood.
As the minutes ticked by on a day that began with fog but became hot and sticky, counterdemonstrators shouted, “Scum! Scum!”
Earlier, the counterprotesters had shouted down their opponents — “No Nazis! No K.K.K.! No fascist U.S.A.!” — as Massachusetts state troopers used their bikes to keep rival demonstrators apart. City officials had said they would enforce a policy of zero tolerance for violence.
“If anything gets out of hand,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said on Friday, “we will shut it down.”
The rally, which could have lasted until 2 p.m., concluded by about 12:50 p.m. The bandstand emptied, officials removed flags tied to the free speech rally and the crowd of counterprotesters sang, “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”
A spokesman for the Boston police, Lt. Detective Mike McCarthy, said the free speech demonstrators had “decided they were done, and they left the Common.” The police escorted them as chants of “Shame!” rained down from the crowd.
Rondre Brooks, 36, who said he had traveled from Detroit for the counterdemonstration, said he was pleased to see the apparent early end of the free speech rally. “It’s a very good look for America as a whole,” he said.
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Police officers in riot gear at Boston Common on Saturday. Credit Hilary Swift for The New York Times
But another man, who said he supported the speech rally and gave his name, after some hesitation, as Matt Staley, interjected to ask if those demonstrating in support of free speech were not Americans, too.
“I think it’s awful that people can’t speak out to express opinions,” Mr. Staley said.
The counterprotesters descended on the Common for hours before the planned rally, and they found fliers showing symbols of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The leaflet, which protesters appeared to have prepared, urged people to “learn to identify these symbols and let anyone displaying them know that they are not welcome in our city!”
“Boston is an anti-fascist zone!” it added.
“Charlottesville is what forced me out here,” said Rose Fowler, a retired teacher who is black and was among the people who had gathered to march from Roxbury toward the Common, about two miles away. “Somebody killed for fighting for me. What is wrong with me if I can’t fight for myself and others?”
Although the protests in Boston were expected to be among the weekend’s largest, several hundred people gathered on Friday evening in Portland for an “Eclipse Hate” rally. The protest soon swelled to more than 1,000 people, many of whom used chants that demonstrators used in Boston on Saturday.
The demonstrators swarmed two of Portland’s bridges, halting traffic in both directions and chanting, “Whose bridge? Our bridge!”
In Arkansas on Saturday morning, a small demonstration supporting Confederate symbols drew about 50 people in Hot Springs. A small group of opponents walked by occasionally, denouncing Mr. Trump and racial hatred.
Along a side street in Charlottesville, the mood was somber at about 1:30 p.m. as people marked the time when, a week earlier, a man drove his car into a crowd, killing Heather D. Heyer.
Ms. Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, stood before a memorial of flowers and candles, weeping as she leaned into her husband, Kim Bro. Hundreds of people gathered around and watched silently as someone wrote with purple chalk — Ms. Heyer’s favorite color — on the pavement, “I miss you baby girl, love mom.”
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Some demonstrators marched from Roxbury Crossing to Boston Common. Credit Hilary Swift for The New York Times
After a few minutes, Ms. Bro turned to address the crowd.
“Thank you guys for coming,” she said. “I know she’s gone on, but this is the spot where I lost my baby.”
She encouraged people to come closer to her, and the crowd came in, some people laid hands on her, and they sang “This Little Light of Mine.”
Ms. Bro said she hoped that some good could come out of her daughter’s death. And for those who might take joy in seeing her grieve, she said, “Karma’s a you know what.”
Law enforcement officials made extensive plans for the demonstrations in the wake of the Virginia bloodshed.
In Dallas, where a gunman killed five police officers who were protecting a protest in July 2016, the authorities planned to form a barricade around Saturday’s demonstration site with buses and heavy equipment to “lock down” the area and keep any cars from drawing too close to the crowd.
The Boston authorities cleared the Common of vendors and their carts, and they shut down the Swan Boats, a major tourist attraction in the nearby Public Garden.
Marchers were banned from bringing weapons, bats, sticks, flagpoles or anything that might be used as a weapon or a projectile, and backpacks were subject to search.
Boston’s approach to the day’s protests represented something of a balancing act. Mr. Walsh, the mayor, said the city had consulted the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group based in Montgomery, Ala., that monitors extremist behavior, on how to handle hate groups.
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A rally in Portland, Ore., on Friday. Credit Mark Graves/The Oregonian, via Associated Press
He said the center warned that “interacting with them gives them a platform to spread their message of hate” and that it recommended that people “not confront” them.
“So we’re urging everyone to stay away from the Common,” Mr. Walsh said. “At the same time, we can’t look away.”
The mayor had begun the week by telling hate groups that they were not welcome in Boston. By Friday, he acknowledged their right to assemble and express their views.
“The courts have made it abundantly clear they have the right to gather, no matter how repugnant their views are, but they don’t have the right to create unsafe conditions,” Mr. Walsh said. “So we’re going to respect their right of free speech, and in return they must respect our city.”
Still, tensions here had been rising all week. On Monday night, a teenager threw a rock at the New England Holocaust Memorial, shattering the glass; passers-by quickly tackled the youth before the police arrived.
And with the national spotlight on the debate over Confederate monuments in the South, John W. Henry, principal owner of the Boston Red Sox, said he was “haunted” by the racist legacy of his predecessor, Tom Yawkey, who resisted integrating the ball club long after every other club in Major League Baseball had hired black players.
Mr. Henry said he wanted to lead an effort to rename Yawkey Way, a public street outside Fenway Park, “in light of the country’s current leadership stance with regard to intolerance.”
Duke University announced early Saturday that it had removed a recently vandalized statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee from the entrance to its campus chapel in Durham, N.C.
“I took this course of action to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university,” Vincent E. Price, the university’s president, said in an email to students, employees and alumni.
Dr. Price said the statue would be “preserved so that students can study Duke’s complex past and take part in a more inclusive future.”

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