After a planned far-right “free speech” rally disbanded, riot police and counterprotesters — mostly young black men and far-left anti-fascists — clashed in downtown Boston Saturday afternoon.
Police made 27 arrests throughout the day, many of which involved battery against officers, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said at a press conference. Some officers were even hit with bottles of urine, he added. During the clashes, however, counterprotesters wanted to know why officers were protecting people they called “white supremacists.”
Just a week after neo-Nazis and white supremacists terrorized Charlottesville, Virginia, leaving three dead, tensions were already running high in Boston. The “alt-lite” — who, in theory, preach civic nationalism rather than white nationalism — planned to gather in Boston Common, the oldest city park in the U.S., to extol the virtues of free speech. While the rally said it opposed white supremacy, the Klu Klux Klan’s national leader said earlier in the week that members from Massachusetts would show up.
But while Boston Police had planned for the possibility of another Charlottesville, the rally quickly fell apart.
An estimated 15,000 counterprotesters marched two miles toward Boston Common, chanting anti-Nazi slogans and forcing 50 rally members, VICE News estimates, into the park’s bandstand, behind a police barrier. And when the far-right rally ended earlier than planned, law enforcement had to escort its attendees away from the park.
In the interest of their safety, police formed a line protecting the rally members and tried to load them into police vans. But the situation escalated. Groups of angry counterprotesters mobbed the attendees and started chanting at the police, “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?”
A counterprotester and Boston police officer in riot gear stare each other down. They quietly exchanged words at one point.
Riot police began clearing the streets and pushing counterprotesters and media onto the sidewalks for the police vans to pass through. Police started handcuffing those who wouldn’t comply.
At the intersection of Tremont and Boylston Streets, a group of counterprotesters lined up before the row of riot police and started chanting “Free speech, free walk.”
They also asked the officers why they were protecting rally attendees, whom they described as “white supremacists.”
A counterprotester stood watching the scene unfold without a word. Then, he began emotionally asking the riot police why they’re protecting rally attendees rather than them.
Another counterprotester stood in front of the wall of riot police, who knocked over a female photographer shortly after as they charged forward.
An officer in riot gear observed the escalating interactions between his fellow officers and counterprotesters.
After police had knocked several people over, including a photographer and a man with a walking cane, Christopher Lee, 23, reapproached the line.
A young woman who had positioned herself on the front lines of the counterprotest became overwhelmed and began to cry.
After nearly an hour, crowds dispersed, and the police vans, filled with rally attendees, were finally able to pass through the streets. From there, riot police walked in the center of the street. One made a peace sign.
Soon after, President Donald Trump tweeted his praise for the Boston Police being “tough and smart” in their handling of “anti-police agitators.”