Transit police will have a “substantial presence” at subways and train stations today as right-wing organizations and counterprotesters — with the latter group potentially in the tens of thousands — flood into the city for the so-called “Free Speech Rally” on the Common.
“Our officers are … the best in dealing with massive crowds in confined spaces. This is nothing new to us,” Transit Police Supt. Richard Sullivan said in a statement yesterday, adding that uniformed and plainclothes officers would be riding the rails.
“You can expect to see a substantial presence of TPD officers in the system,” Sullivan said. “Violent acts on the MBTA will not be tolerated in any manner and those who engage in such behavior will be dealt with swiftly.”
The event, scheduled from noon to 2 p.m., has city officials warning of potential clashes between demonstrators and counterprotesters. Rally organizers had initially invited some of the far-right speakers who attended last week’s deadly demonstration in Charlottesville, Va. One speaker, far-right activist Kyle Chapman, was charged today with possessing a leaded stick that he allegedly used to beat people at a rally earlier this year in Berkeley, Calif.
At a press conference yesterday, Mayor Martin J. Walsh urged people to stay away from the Common during the rally and vowed to deploy hundreds of police and security cameras in an effort to keep the peace.
Angelina Camacho, an organizer of the “Fight Supremacy!” counterprotest, which will feature demonstrators marching from the Reggie Lewis Center to the Common, said more than 10,000 people have said they’ll join her group. Organizers expect between 20,000 to 30,000 counterprotesters to swamp the Common.
Whether anti-fascist groups like the one that confronted white nationalists in Charlottesville will attend, Camacho said, is unclear.
“We can’t speak to outfits we don’t have any verified intel on — they are not a group known for sharing ahead of time,” she said, adding, “Our focus is on the safety of everyone.”
Police officials say barriers will separate protesters from the estimated 200 rally participants and there are stiff restrictions on what demonstrators will be allowed to bring onto the Common. Backpacks, sticks and anything that could be used as a weapon are banned.
About 500 Hub cops will be deployed tomorrow, Walsh said, with more standing by if needed. Police Commissioner William B. Evans said officers have installed cameras around the Common bandstand and would quickly arrest anyone attempting to incite violence. City officials, Evans said, will have “eyes and ears all over the place.”
And though there won’t be a riot police presence at the outset of the event, Evans said “they will be close by, ready to roll out and take the line if we need to. We plan on handling this on a very soft approach. You won’t see the helmets and sticks out there.”
Former BPD Superintendent-in-Chief Dan Linskey, now a managing director for Kroll, a security company that consults and trains law enforcement, said the “soft approach” has proven to be successful at massive Boston rallies in the past.
“We’ve got a pretty good playbook on this,” Linskey told the Herald. “You want to engage the people putting the rally on and establish trust, make sure they are going to stay within the lines and let them know police are going to protect their First Amendment rights if somebody tries to disrupt their event.”
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