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Massive Group Of Counter-Protesters Met 'Free Speech' Rally In Boston


Turning now to Boston, where thousands of people took to the streets today in dueling demonstrations. One was a prescheduled permitted rally to promote free speech. The other was a counterprotest to that rally - also permitted. And that drew even bigger crowds. Martha Bebinger from member station WBUR was there. We spoke with her earlier today as both protests started to wind down. We started by asking if the number of folks who showed up to protest the rally came as a surprise.

MARTHA BEBINGER, BYLINE: The actual number was larger than what we had been expecting. We had heard, Dwane, that there would be 20,000 to 30,000. And it looks like it was more like 40,000 to 45,000 people who were on that counterprotest side - those who wanted to be sure the anti-hate message was the main message today. There was a much smaller group, maybe smaller than we expected, who showed up for the Free Speech rally, where some who have spoke in favor of white supremacy were scheduled to speak. There were just less than a hundred of that group.

BROWN: Was there any sort of interaction between the two sides?

BEBINGER: Very little. You know, the counterprotesters didn't really arrive down their 2-mile march to the Common until after those free speech folks had been escorted away by police. Apparently, there was some concern about whether they were in danger. And police put them in vans and took them out of the area before the vast majority of those protesters arrived.

BROWN: At the rally in Charlottesville last weekend, which, of course, actually turned deadly, there was some criticism about the police presence. What was it like there today?

BEBINGER: There were 500 or more Boston police officers and officers from surrounding towns on bikes, motorcycles, walking the streets with the counterprotesters, patrolling barricades that separated sides on Boston Common. They were very visible. And in the end, we had about 20 arrests of - mostly of protesters who were going after vans who took the Free Speech folks out. And so there was some criticism of the police for being maybe a little too heavy-handed in trying to control this rally. But for the most part, what I heard was people thanking police for keeping it largely safe.

BROWN: Well, you were on the ground there. Do you think either group - the Free Speech folks or the counterprotesters - achieved what they came out to do today?

BEBINGER: Some people were - who were on that counterprotest side, Dwane, were very excited that their numbers seemed to overwhelm those who came for the Free Speech rally. But there was frustration, I would say, on both sides that there was very little dialogue between the two groups, very little opportunity to interact. And I heard that, in particular, from Ramone Ward (ph).

RAMONE WARD: I didn't see any dialogue. I seen a lot of shouting. A few people got arrested, a few scuffles. But, fortunately, I'm glad that violence didn't break out.

BEBINGER: I did also hear, though, Dwane, a lot of people who were really energized today by the sense of community and unity of those thousands of people who marched into the city as a unit to be sure that the message from Boston is we don't want to tolerate hate.

BROWN: Martha Bebinger from member station WBUR. Thanks, Martha.

BEBINGER: Thank you, Dwane.

(SOUNDBITE OF ODDOSEE'S "FROSTBIT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martha Bebinger
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