Massive counter protests overshadow Boston ‘Free Speech Rally’

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BOSTON, Mass. (CBS) – About 40,000 people converged on Boston Common Saturday afternoon in a massive counter protest to a so-called “free speech” rally that fell apart and ended earlier than expected.

The rally of conservatives and libertarians at the Parkman Bandstand on the Common was sparsely attended as police barricades held back tens of thousands of men and women who came to show their opposition.

There were a total of 27 arrests, according to Boston Police. No serious injuries were reported and there was no major destruction to any property in the city.  At least two Boston Police officers were hurt, one with a back injury and the other with a wrist issue.

The enormous gathering of counter protesters began around 10 a.m. at Roxbury Community College.  Thousands then marched peacefully along Tremont Street, arriving at the Common before the scheduled noon-time start of the rally.

However, the “free speech” event fell apart when only a handful of people showed up.

They were huddled on the bandstand for less than an hour, while police and barricades kept the massive crowd of counter protesters at a distance.

“In a city where liberty was founded, this is overzealous and too much,” a self-proclaimed anti-fascist who covered his head in black with sunglasses told WBZ-TV.

Boston Police declared the event over at 1:30 p.m.

Mayor Marty Walsh, police and protesters all drew praise afterwards from President Trump on Twitter.

“I think it’s clear today that Boston stood for peace and love, not bigotry and hate,” Walsh told reporters at a late afternoon news conference.

“It was a long day, it was a hot day, and the separation worked well,” said Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans.

There were some small scuffles between protesters and police as the demonstrations ended.

Officers reported being hit with rocks and other objects, including bottles filled with urine.

“They were hit with a lot of stuff today and I’m very proud of the job they did,” the commissioner said of his officers.

“99.9 percent of the people here were (here) for the right reason and that’s to fight bigotry and hate,” Evans said.  “We knew we were going to have some people who were going to cause problems.”

Most of the arrests were for disorderly conduct and assault and battery on police officers.

“We didn’t want what happened in Virginia to happen here,” Evans said, alluding to last weekend’s clash between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one woman dead and several others hurt.

“This is a potentially very important moment in time for our country here in Boston, Massachusetts to push back on some of the rhetoric and the hate, the anti-Semitism and the racism that’s being talked about and going on in our country. I think Boston can start to turn that tide,” Walsh said hours before the event.

John Medlar, a spokesman for the Boston Free Speech Coalition, said earlier in the week that people had the wrong impression about his organization and that the group does not condone white supremacy.

Vendors in and around the Common were forced to stay away for the day for safety precautions.

The MBTA closed the Park Street and Boylston stations and the city shut down several streets for the demonstrations.

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