On August 31, 2017

Counter-protesting civilly

By Brady Crain

A crowd in the Boston Common recently marched in protest of the Free Speech rally and against white supremacy.

By Brady Cain

It took me quite a while to digest what happened in Boston.

One of the most memorable parts of the march was the heat (standing in a crowd on sunny pavement was way higher than the 83 degrees listed on the Weather Service), which was oppressive.

My friend and I (he is married to an African American and has African American children) were the first to arrive on the actual site of the start of the march, and while we waited there, tense, we listened to speakers make requests as to protester conduct, etc.  In the hour that we stood there, behind us grew a crowd that was so large that we could not see the end of it.
Most of the people there were tense, because we all expected the end of the march to be greeted by a bunch of shouting Nazis. Because of the news, we all know how this turned out.

Usually at a civil rights march you will see children and families. This was not that kind of march. People went to this march angry, people went to this march expecting to meet the enemy eye to eye, or knee to bumper. And make no mistake, Nazis and Neo-Confederates are the enemy of everything the United States holds dear.

As we began to march, we noticed some things. The city of Boston had parked its new fleet of recycling trucks along the route, blocking vehicular access to the street being marched. This was very very smart.

Furthermore, two Boston PD helicopters essentially hovered over the front and back of the march at all times, a few hundred feet up.  I wondered about this, and I realized that they were up there spotting for snipers and ramming vehicles—again, highly intelligent.

As we marched the mile or two from Roxbury to the Common, we kept having to stop and stand and wait, and we were all a bit puzzled by this.  It turns out there was a very good reason.  Leaving aside the 20,000 or so people marching down the street, there were already 20,000 people on the Boston Common, completely surrounding the 100 or so Free Speech rally goers who showed up. Aerial photos show that there were few enough Free Speechers there that they all fit in the gazebo on the Common.

We kept having to stop because the police felt (and I think rightly so) that an additional 20,000 people on the Common would make things a bit unmanageable.  So, like it or not, we were held off until the Free Speech rally had disbanded, and the initial protestors dispersed.  As we got closer and closer to the Common, we picked up more and more people.  We picked up people from the college neighborhood. We picked up people of color from the streets of Roxbury, and we picked up old white ladies with their tiny dogs from the area surrounding Beacon Hill.

The thing that still makes me emotional is how occasionally would see a person of color leaning out a window, or standing off to the side, or walking backwards through the march, filming it, and yelling “thank you.”

Hopefully people felt less alone.

When we arrived at the Common, things were less organized, as there was no direct opponent in view, and the various groups making up the larger march split up into smaller units crowding around separate stages.  Hearing speakers was an enormous issue because of the constant passing of motorcycle police, helicopters, etc.  By the time we got to the Common, my back was in excruciating pain from all of the standing around.

There have been lots of claims about violence among the counter-protesters, and truth be told, I was witness to one scuffle.  One.  It was a Free Speecher who had walked into the middle of a counter rally and started some shit.  He ran away, then started taunting his massive audience, and some people started chasing him, and he got knocked around a bit before something surprising happened: as he fell down and some aggressors started closing in on him, another group of counter-protestors came to his defense, and protected him until literally 20 BPD arrived on bicycles all at the same time.
This is the way that counter protest went. During the Free Speech Rally it was Black Lives Matter marshals that (quite literally) escorted and protected the people with whom they vociferously disagreed from the counter protestors, keeping them safe, keeping situations from escalating.

Things only seem to have gotten out of hand when protesters of any stripe crossed police lines (in this case, Free Speechers crossing police lines into crowds of counter protesters with video cameras to provoke reaction.)

All and all, the city of Boston and the BPD did an excellent job of preventing the protests from becoming a riot. But let’s be clear, this is their job. It is what they signed up for, and just like I don’t feel like white people should really be patting themselves on the back for not being racists (which is the bare minimum), I am also not all that into patting a police organization on the back for not screwing things up royally. I thank them for their service, and I thank them for their restraint.

Quite frankly, despite the 33 arrests (0.08 percent of the attending population, and several of them were Free Speechers), I call this a win.

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