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Boston Braces for Free Speech Rally: 'We Will Not Tolerate Violence'

Aug 18, 2017

(BOSTON) — Boston will deploy about 500 police officers on Saturday to prevent possible violence at a free speech rally and planned counterprotests, the mayor and police commissioner said Friday.

"We will not tolerate any misbehavior, violence or vandalism whatsoever," Police Commissioner William Evans said at a City Hall news conference.

The city granted permission for what organizers are calling a free speech rally on Boston Common, but which some people fear is actually a white nationalist event similar to the Unite the Right rally in Virginia last weekend that erupted in violence and left one person dead.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh pointed out that some of those invited to speak "spew hate." Kyle Chapman, who described himself on Facebook as a "proud American nationalist," said he will attend.

"They have the right to gather no matter how repugnant their views are," Walsh said. "We're going to respect their right of free speech. In return they must respect our city."

The Boston Free Speech Coalition says its rally has nothing to do with white nationalism, Nazism or racism and that they are not affiliated with the organizers of the Charlottesville, Virginia, rally.

"While we maintain that every individual is entitled to their freedom of speech and defend that basic human right, we will not be offering our platform to racism or bigotry. We denounce the politics of supremacy and violence," the group said on its Facebook page.

Its permit is for 100 people, though an organizer has said he expected up to 1,000 people to attend.

Organizers of a counterprotest expect thousands of people to join them on a 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) march from the city's Roxbury neighborhood to the Common to "stand in defiance of white supremacy," activist Monica Cannon said.

"I don't think what they are exuding is free speech, I believe it is hate speech," she said at a separate news conference Friday.

Organizers promised a peaceful counterprotest.

Another group is planning a separate "Stand for Solidarity" rally on the Statehouse steps near the Common.

The police presence in Boston will include undercover officers mingling in the crowds and officers on bicycles, Evans said. More officers will be held in reserve in case of trouble. Transit police will increase their presence at subway stations in the area. Weapons of all kinds, even sticks used to carry signs, are banned. The sides will be separated by barricades.

Popular tourist attractions, including the Frog Pond on the Common, and the Swan Boats in the adjacent Public Garden, are being shut down for the day. Streets around the Common are also being blocked to vehicle traffic.

Extra security cameras have been installed at the bandstand where the free speech rally is taking place. Walsh noted it's a spot where Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., and President Barack Obama have spoken.

State police troopers are also available if needed, Gov. Charlie Baker said.

"We're going to do everything we can to make sure tomorrow is about liberty and justice, and about freedom and peace," he said.

Boston isn't the only city preparing for such a rally.

Dallas police said Friday they will have extra officers on duty for a rally against white supremacy planned for City Hall Plaza on Saturday night.

Supporters of keeping the city's Confederate monuments have also posted on social media about a counterprotest, but it was unclear Friday whether that event would occur.

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