(BOSTON) -- One week after violent protests rattled Charlottesville, Virginia, a scheduled free speech rally in Boston today was met with thousands of counterprotesters, but the day went off mostly smoothly, police said, with 27 arrests but few injuries.
The free speech rally was deemed "officially over" by police ahead of its official end time, but thousands of counterprotesters continued to spread out in the city throughout the afternoon, with some protesting peacefully but others confronting officers and people.
A total of 27 arrests were made today, mostly from disorderly conduct and a few assaults on police officers, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said at a news conference this afternoon. Some urine-filled bottles were thrown at officers, Evans said, and police indicated on Twitter that some were throwing rocks at police.
But for the most part, Evans said, the day of direct action went off smoothly as police planned, with very little injury and property damage.
"Overall I thought we got the First Amendment people in, we got them out, no one got hurt, no one got killed," he said.
Police did stop three people with ballistic vests and a gun, Evans said, "but we were lucky to get those three out of here and confiscate the vests."
Evans said roughly 40,000 people descended on Boston today, "standing tall against hatred and bigotry in our city, and that's a good feeling." He added that he wished the "trouble makers stayed away," who he said weren't there for either the free speech side or the counterprotesters' side, but "were here just to cause problems."
Evans said that "99.9 percent of the people here were for the right reasons -- that's to fight bigotry and hate."
Ahead of the scheduled rally, giant crowds of counterprotesters gathered in the city, holding signs that read "Hate speech is not free speech" and "White silence is violence." An estimated 15,000 counterprotesters marched through the city, according to reports.
Near the entrance to the rally, counterprotesters chanted, "No fascists, no KKK, no racist USA."
Boston officials said they planned to deploy about 500 police officers to prevent violence similar to what took place in Charlottesville last weekend, where a rally by white nationalists, including neo-Nazis, skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members demonstrating over plans to remove a Robert E. Lee statue, ended in the death of a counterprotester after a car was rammed into a crowd that was marching through the streets.
"We're going to respect their right to free speech,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Friday, but "they don't have the right to create unsafe conditions."
Walsh tweeted Saturday morning, asking the participants to remain peaceful.
I ask everyone to be peaceful today and respect our City. Love, not hate. We stand together against intolerance.— Mayor Marty Walsh (@marty_walsh) August 19, 2017
Scheduled to speak at the free speech rally, which was organized by the Boston Free Speech Coalition, were Kyle Chapman, who caused controversy online after photos emerged of him hitting anti-Trump protesters; Joe Biggs, who previously worked at the website InfoWars, run by conservative radio host Alex Jones; Republican congressional candidate Shiva Ayyadurai; and Racioppi.
John Medlar, who said he is an organizer for Boston Free Speech, said the group has no affiliation with the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Boston.com reported.
"While we maintain that every individual is entitled to their freedom of speech -- and defend that basic human right -- we will not be offering our platform to racism or bigotry. We denounce the politics of supremacy and violence," the group wrote on its Facebook page.
The group is largely made up of students in their mid-teens to mid-20s, Medlar told Boston.com.
WCVB-TV reported that the KKK’s national director, Thomas Robb, said as many as five KKK members from Springfield and possibly more from Boston were planning to attend Saturday's rally.
“They might be holding signs about free speech, but they're not going to say anything about the KKK or anything," Robb said ahead of the rally, according to WCVB-TV. "I mean, they might. I don't know. They didn't really say."
Boston Police Commissioner Billy Evans said Friday that while he believes "a few troublemakers" will attend the rally, police will be "working the crowd real closely."
Anything that can be used as a weapon, including backpacks and sticks, have been banned from the rally, WCVB-TV reported.
Demonstrators should even avoid using sticks to hold up their posters, Evans said.
The permit for the event allows the rally to take place between noon and 2 p.m., according to the Boston Globe.
Other rallies are planned across the U.S. on Saturday, many of which are in response to Charlottesville, the movement to remove Confederate statues across the country and Donald Trump’s controversial press conference on Tuesday.
Rallies are planned in Austin; Dallas; Houston; Atlanta; New Orleans; and Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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