Boston officials are taking extra precautions ahead of Saturday’s “Free Speech Rally” and subsequent counter marches on Boston Common, including installing cameras around the Parkman Bandstand and closing Tremont Street.
But the overall message asked ahead of the controversial event is that attendees peacefully assemble.
To anyone planning to counter protest, “Come for the right reason,” said Boston Police Commissioner William Evans at a Friday press conference. “Show that Boston is about unity and love and it is not about hatred and bigotry.”
Evans added that he’s confident “99 percent” of the people who plan to head to the Common will come for the right reason, but that the other small percentage may be looking to stoke trouble. That’s who officials will watch out for, he said, though he added that he doesn’t foresee any problems.
More than 500 Boston police will be at Boston Common, along with about 200 more state troopers. Officials have also been in touch with the FBI Boston branch. Police officers will be on pedal bikes, on foot and undercover in the crowd, some with cameras on them along with the cameras installed around the bandstand.
That same bandstand has been the site of many historic moments, Mayor Marty Walsh noted.
“From that stage in 1852 Frederick Douglass gave his famous speech on the meaning of the 4th of July, which we remember every single year. From that stage in 1965, Martin Luther King spoke the words that still ring true today, that it’s not a battle of white people vs black people, but a struggle of the forces of justice and injustice. From that stage about 10 years ago, Barack Obama was running for president of the United States of America and we began to imagine the idea of our country with its first black president,” he said. “Those are the words we will remember.”
Weapons are not allowed, officials reiterated, and attendees are cautioned not to bring backpacks. If you do bring a back, it will be subject to search.
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“As a police agency, we want to make sure tomorrow that anyone who wants to practice free speech does that and that they do it without any violence,” Evans said. “We will not tolerate any misbehavior, violence or vandalism whatsoever.”
Evans also suggested that the attention swarming around this event has stoked some of the tension. He said the media coverage is making it seem like it’s a “battle.”
“No one has helped this week,” he said. “Tomorrow should be all about like what happened after marathon, how the city came together to go against hate.”
The majority of Tremont Street into Charles Street South by the Common will likely be closed beginning at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Evans said. Towing will begin at 6 a.m. and there will be a police presence on that route starting Friday night.
The Boston Common garage, the Swan Boats and the Frog Pond will all be closed.
Walsh still encouraged people to stay away from the area if they don’t need to be there.
He will not be in the area himself, instead spending the day at neighborhoods across the city. Multiple public housing developments will host their pre-planned Unity Days tomorrow.
Interacting with the groups who may be touting white supremacist ideologies “gives them a platform,” he warned.
“At the same time, we can’t look away,” he added. “We want everyone who goes to the Common tomorow to understand that young people from the city are watching this.”