Boston braced for protests, aims to avert violence at 'free speech' rally

While hundreds were due at the free speech rally yesterday, thousands were expected at a counter-protest.
While hundreds were due at the free speech rally yesterday, thousands were expected at a counter-protest.PHOTO: REUTERS

BOSTON • Hundreds of police officers were positioned around a Boston park where a group held a "free speech" rally with right-wing speakers yesterday, a week after a woman was killed at a Virginia white-supremacist protest.

Thousands of counter-protesters who believe the event could become a platform for racist propaganda were gathering about 3.2km away with plans to march on the rally.

Streets around Boston Common saw light traffic early yesterday, while some 500 police officers placed barricades to prevent vehicles from entering the park, the nation's oldest. To keep the two groups separate, they also built a cordon around the site of the rally.

The rally came one day after the resignation of all 16 members of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the latest group to protest against President Donald Trump's defence of white nationalists. The members blasted Mr Trump in a letter and said "ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions".

The violent clashes in Charlottesville, where one woman was killed in the car rampage, ratcheted up racial tensions already inflamed by white-supremacist groups marching more openly in rallies across the United States.

White nationalists had converged in the southern university city to defend a statue of Robert E. Lee, who led the army of the pro-slavery Confederacy during the Civil War, which ended in 1865.

A growing number of US political leaders have called for statues honouring the Confederacy to be taken down, with civil rights activists charging that they promote racism. Advocates of the statues contend they are a reminder of their heritage.

Duke University removed a Lee statue from the entrance of a chapel on its campus in Durham, North Carolina, officials said yesterday.

Charlottesville mayor Michael Signer called on the Virginia state legislature last Friday to convene a special session to push for new laws that would give local governments the power to decide the fates of their Confederate war memorials.

Mr Signer, a Democrat, also asked that localities be able to suspend some gun laws, after his city was besieged by violence last week.

"Last weekend changed not only Charlottesville, but also America," he wrote in a statement. "While we are getting back on our feet, we are still traumatised... but we will overcome this hatred."

Last weekend's violence sparked the biggest domestic crisis yet for Mr 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.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 20, 2017, with the headline 'Boston braced for protests, aims to avert violence at 'free speech' rally'. Print Edition | Subscribe