Boston Rally Security Measures
Boston officials said they were pleased with the mostly-peaceful protests which took over Boston Common and the surrounding area on Saturday.
A week after a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, left dozens of demonstrators injured and three people dead, Boston officials said they were pleased with the mostly-peaceful protests which took over Boston Common and the surrounding area on Saturday.
A few hundred people were expected at the “Free Speech Rally” coordinated by white supremacists and counter-protestors, but was largely surpassed with an estimated 40,000 attendees as thousands of people surrounded the cordoned-off bandstand and another 10,000 or more marched to the area from Roxbury, a historically African American neighborhood.
While 33 people were arrested for charges including assault and battery on police officers, according to the Boston Police, and there were several reports of verbal confrontations, the controversial event was kept under control thanks to the city’s preparation and security measures.
Preventative Steps Taken to Avoid Violence
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh initially urged the public to stay away from the rally, as advised to him by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“They say that interacting with these groups just gives them a platform to spread their message of hate,” Walsh said. “They recommend that people should not confront these rallies. So we’re urging everyone to stay away from the Common.”
Since thousands of people still attended, the extra security measures proved helpful for controlling the crowds.
A total of 500 police officers were present Saturday morning, with several hundred more available if needed. Fencing, roadblocks and security cameras were also installed Friday on Boston Common’s Parkman Bandstand where the rally took place.
The permit granted for the event came with severe restrictions, including a full list of prohibited items including backpacks, weapons of any kind, sticks, flagpoles and more. Out of those who were arrested, three people were found wearing ballistic vests, and one of those was armed, Police Commissioner William Evans told local news.
Boston Common vendors were also asked to close for the day, as well as park attractions like the Frog Pond and swan boats.
"If anything gets out of hand, we will shut it down," Walsh said.
The rally itself seemed fairly unplanned by organizers, attendees told local news, and the few dozens of right-wing speakers who gathered on the bandstand were observed leaving, escorted out by police, around 12:45 p.m., shortly after the event began at noon.
“I want to thank everyone who came here to express themselves in such a positive, great manner today,” Walsh said after the rally.
Comparing Charlottesville’s Security Measures
At the end of the day, Charlottesville authorities were most likely just not prepared for the large crowds who attended the rally or the extremity of violence that ensued. For a police department with fewer than 130 officers, the group of some 500 neo-Nazis and white supremacists who showed up with tiki torches in hand greatly outweighed the police force on-site.
Also, Virginia is an open-carry state, meaning residents can tote their guns openly in public. Many of the rally’s attendees were carrying personal weapons, including rifles.
Mayor Mike Signer had attempted to move the rally away from Emancipation Park, which is near popular pedestrian shops and the Downtown Mall, and, instead, have it held at a different park where he believed crowd control would be easier. But a judge blocked the request on Friday night, right before the morning of the rally, stating that it infringed on free-speech rights. Perhaps this gave authorities less time to prepare for such an extreme clash of people in a small, busy area.
However, many witnesses have come out and criticized Charlottesville and Virginia State police, placing blame on officers for the violence.
"In the entire hour that I was there," one witness told CNN, "at no point did I see the police intervene in any violence they were witness to, including my own."
It wasn't until things got out of hand that police declared the rally an "unlawful assembly" and Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency that police ordered the gathering to break up and started scattering the crowds.
Last week, McAuliffe said in a statement that he ordered his team "to conduct an extensive review that will include how we issue rally permits, law enforcement preparation and response, and coordination at the local, state, and federal level," in an effort to learn from the events.