Mayor Walsh: Violence Won't Be Tolerated at ‘Free Speech' Rally

Officials say safety is the number one priority as Massachusetts prepares for Saturday’s “Boston Free Speech” rally on the Boston Common.

Massachusetts State Police said they're expecting a crowd in the "thousands" to attend between rally participants and counter-protesters. Counter-protest organizers said they expect as many as 20,000 to 30,000 people to join them.

"I urge everyone to be on their best behavior on Saturday if they decide to come to Boston Common," Mayor Marty Walsh said. "We urge you to be peaceful. We don't respond to hate with hate. We respond to hate with peace. We want people to be civil and we want everyone to make sure we make Boston proud."

Over 500 uniformed and undercover police will be on the scene of the rally, including members of the state police’s "5th Division." This new division focuses on counter-terrorism, drug trafficking and other threats through collection and analysis of criminal intelligence.

Fixed video cameras and mobile support teams will also be deployed to help keep the event safe.

Gallery: Boston Free Speech and Antifa Supporters Clash

The city has implemented extensive safety measures to prevent a repeat of the violent events from the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. No large bags, sticks or weapons will be permitted during the rally.

"We want everyone to get together and show that Boston is a different place," Police Commissioner William Evans said. "We will not tolerate any violence, any misbehavior."

Added Walsh, "If you're looking to start trouble, regardless of where you are, don't come to Boston tomorrow.

Evans said no threats have been made surrounding Saturday's event, but given what happened in Barcelona this week, police will be vigilant about anyone attempting to do anything beyond the protest.

Anyone who sees anything is urged to call 911 or find a public safety officer.

Fencing and concrete barriers are already in place, and dump trucks will also be used to block vehicle access on Saturday. The Boston Common Garage will be closed and parking in and around the Common will be prohibited.

Sections of Tremont Street and some adjoining streets will be closed and Evans said cars parked there will be towed.

The Boston Common Frog Pond and Visitor Information Center will be closed on Saturday and the Swan Boats will not be available for use.

Many local businesses will also be closed during the rally, and vendors have been told to avoid the impacted areas.

"Boston and Massachusetts are the home of some of the most important moments in the fight for freedom and equality in this nation's history," Gov. Charlie Baker said. "Tomorrow is one more chapter in that honored tradition, and we're going to do everything we can to make sure that tomorrow is about liberty and justice and about freedom and peace."

The event will be limited to noon to 2 p.m. instead of the five-hour window organizers had requested. Rally participants and counter-protesters will be kept separated during the event.

The Boston Free Speech Coalition says its rally Saturday has nothing to do with white nationalism and they are not affiliated with the organizers of a rally in Virginia last weekend that erupted into violence and left one person dead.

"The courts have made it abundantly clear - they have the right to gather, no matter how repugnant their views are," Walsh said. "But they don't have a right to create unsafe conditions. We're gonna respect their right to free speech. In return, they must respect our city."

Police said they expect to begin towing vehicles parked at the following locations at 6 a.m. Saturday:

  • Beacon Street: South side (Boston Common, Public Garden side), from Arlington Street to Park Street
  • Boylston Street: North side, Public Garden side, from Arlington Street to Charles Street
  • Charles Street South: Both sides, from Tremont Street to Boylston Street
  • Charles Street: Both sides, from Boylston Street to Beacon Street
  • Columbus Avenue: Both sides, from Coventry Street to Camden Street
  • Malcolm X Boulevard: Both sides, from Shawmut Avenue to Tremont Street
  • Park Street: Both sides, from Beacon Street to Tremont Street
  • Tremont Street: Both sides, from Malcolm X Boulevard to Charles Street South

The complete list of items prohibited on the Common Saturday includes:

  • Firearms, knives, weapons, sharp objects, shields or fireworks
  • Pop-up tents or canopies
  • Cans, glass containers, pre-mixed beverages or alcoholic beverages
  • Wagons or pull carts
  • Coolers
  • Drones
  • Pets (excluding certified service animals)
  • Grills, propane tanks or open flames
  • Bicycles
  • Flag poles, bats, clubs and sticks, including signs attached to sticks
  • Any athletic equipment or other item which could be used as a weapon
Additional information can be found on the city website.
Copyright AP - Associated Press
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