BOSTON – One week after violent protests rattled Charlottesville, Virginia, a scheduled free speech rally in Boston Saturday was met with thousands of counterprotesters, but the day went off mostly smoothly, police said, with 33 arrests but few injuries.
The free speech rally was deemed “officially over” by police ahead of its official end time, but thousands of counterprotesters continued to spread out in the city throughout the afternoon, with some protesting peacefully but others confronting officers and people, reported ABC News.
A total of 33 arrests were made Saturday. Most of the offenses were from disorderly conduct charges. However, there were a few assaults on police officers, the Boston Police Department announced.
Police Commissioner William Evans said at a news conference yesterday afternoon that some urine-filled bottles were thrown at officers. Moreover, authorities indicated on Twitter that some demonstrators were throwing rocks at police. But for the most part, Evans said, the day of direct action went off smoothly as police planned, with very little injury and property damage.
“Overall I thought we got the First Amendment people in, we got them out, no one got hurt, no one got killed,” he said.
Police did stop three people with ballistic vests and a gun, Evans said, “but we were lucky to get those three out of here and confiscate the vests.”
Evans said roughly 40,000 people descended on Boston today, “standing tall against hatred and bigotry in our city, and that’s a good feeling.” He added that he wished the “trouble makers stayed away,” who he said weren’t there for either the free speech side or the counterprotesters’ side, but “were here just to cause problems.”
Evans said, “99.9 percent of the people here were for the right reasons—that’s to fight bigotry and hate.”
The massive gathering of demonstrators was sparked by a free speech rally scheduled from noon to 2 p.m. at Boston Common. However, the rally was deemed “officially over” in a tweet from Boston police at 1:30 p.m. ET, and police said the demonstrators had left the Common.
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Libertarian congressional candidate Samson Racioppi, who was set to speak at the free speech event, told ABC affiliate WCVB, “I really think it was supposed to be a good event by the organizers, but it kind of fell apart.”
An organizer of the free speech event said the group has no affiliation with the white supremacists involved in the violence in Charlottesville, but a small number of Ku Klux Klan members were expected to attend, ABC affiliate WCVB in Boston reported.
Even after the free speech event concluded, counterprotesters still swarmed Boston this afternoon, and riot police also responded in the city.
The giant crowds of counterprotesters first gathered in the city Saturday morning holding signs with phrases like, “hate speech is not free speech” and “white silence is violence.”
Counterprotesters chanted “no fascists, no KKK, no racist USA.”
One Massachusetts woman who drove three hours to Boston to attend today’s counterprotest told ABC News she has felt “months of depression” and “absolute outrage.”
“And after Saturday [at Charlottesville],” she said, “I just cannot be silent anymore.”
Of the free speech rally attendees, she said, “I was glad to see that their crowd was very small. That spoke volumes to me.
“We have a really long way to go and we have to end white supremacy in all of its forms,” she added.
Another counterprotester told ABC News, “I just wanted to come out and confront them head on, and I didn’t want to miss this chance.”
“I didn’t think that we would ever have to have this confrontation in 2017,” she said, “so it feels really vital to just come out and try to stamp it out today. And I’m encouraged by how many other people came out.”
But there were some counterprotesters that chose to scuffle with armed officers.
Amid the confrontations, Boston police tweeted that individuals are asked to “refrain from throwing urine, bottles and other harmful projectiles at our officers.”
#BPD is asking individuals to refrain from throwing urine, bottles and other harmful projectiles at our officers.
— Boston Police Dept. (@bostonpolice) August 19, 2017
President Trump thanked the police in a tweet, saying they look “tough and smart” against what he said appeared to be “anti-police agitators.”
“Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart! Thank you.”
Great job by all law enforcement officers and Boston Mayor @Marty_Walsh.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2017
Trump also tweeted, “I want to applaud the many protestors in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate. Our country will soon come together as one!”
Boston Mayor Marty Wash responded to that message by saying that his city stood together for “peace and love.”
Boston city officials said they planned to deploy hundreds of police officers to prevent violence similar to what took place in Charlottesville last weekend.
“We’re going to respect their right to free speech,” Walsh said Friday, but “they don’t have the right to create unsafe conditions.”
Several other rallies were planned across the U.S. Many are in response to the Charlottesville violence last weekend, as well as the movement to remove Confederate statues across the country, and in reaction to Trump’s press conference on Tuesday.
The “Rally Against White Supremacy” was scheduled in Austin, Texas, while the “Black Lives Matter Protests to remove Confederate statues” was held in Houston, and the “United Against HATE: Demand Racist President Trump Resign” rally occurred in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Events are also planned in cities including Atlanta, New Orleans and Dallas.
(Photo: Screenshot CBS News broadcast)