For complete coverage of Saturday’s “Free Speech Rally” and counter protests on Boston Common, click here.
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BOSTON (CBS) – Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is urging people to stay away from a planned Free Speech Rally scheduled for Saturday on Boston Common.
Walsh made the comments Friday as he discussed security for the event alongside Boston Police Commissioner William Evans and Gov. Charlie Baker.
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The mayor said he has spoken with the Southern Poverty Law Center for guidance on how to handle events involving white supremacists.
“They say that interacting with these groups just gives them a platform to spread their message of hate,” said Walsh. “They recommend that people should not confront these rallies. So we’re urging everyone to stay away from the Common.”
A total of 500 police officers will be present at the rally, and several hundred more are available if necessary.
Fencing and security cameras were installed on Boston Common’s Parkman Bandstand Friday morning as police continue safety preparations ahead of Saturday’s planned rally.
City officials approved a permit earlier this week for the rally, organized by the Boston Free Speech Coalition.
The permit allows rallygoers to begin setting up at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The rally is expected to begin at noon.
“There have been questions about why we granted a permit for the rally tomorrow,” said Walsh. “The courts have made it abundantly clear. They have the right to gather, no matter how repugnant their views are. But they don’t have the right to create unsafe conditions. They have the right to free speech. In return, they have to respect our city.”
“At the same time, we can’t look away. The children of our city are watching, and I want everyone who goes to the Common tomorrow to understand that. The young people of our city are watching TV, are following this. We have to make it clear what we stand for in the City of Boston.”
A large counter-protest is also expected at the event.
The sides will be separated by barriers, Boston Police said.
“Boston and Massachusetts are the home of some of the most important moments in the fight for freedom and equality in this nation’s history,” said Baker. “Tomorrow is one more chapter in that honored tradition, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure tomorrow is about liberty and justice, freedom and peace, and yes the right for people to peacefully assemble.”
Thomas Robb, the national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, told the Boston Herald that some members from the Springfield area are planning to attend Saturday’s Rally. Walsh disputed this claim.
“There’s been no talk of any Ku Klux Klansmen at all,” Walsh said.
No weapons, sticks, or flagpoles will be allowed in the area. A full list of prohibited items is available on the Boston Police website.
Boston Common vendors have been asked to close for the day. As a precaution, the Frog Pond and swan boats will be closed as well.
Walsh said it is frustrating that vendors will lose business just “for five people to be able to spew hate. That’s just an unfortunate circumstance, but we’ll deal with it.”
Tremont Street will be closed at about 10:30 a.m. to Charles Street South.
“There will be zero tolerance for any violence tomorrow. We will not tolerate any misbehavior, any violence, or any vandalism whatsoever,” said Evans.
The rally comes one week after clashes between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. One woman was killed when a car drove into a crowd of demonstrators.
Organizers for the Boston Free Speech Rally said they condemn white supremacists and have no association with the groups involved in the Charlottesville clashes.
Monica Cannon, founder of a group called Violence In Boston that is among the sponsors of the Fight Supremacy counter-protest, held a press conference on Friday.
“I’m a black woman living in Roxbury. I don’t have the privilege of ignoring this problem,” she said. “For many years I feel like they ignored the problem. Ignoring a problem has never made it go away. I think it’s an obligation morally, but as a community member also to resist it.”
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Carl Stevens reports