The on again, off again Boston Free Speech rally

After the weekend we just had in Charlottesville, what’s the perfect next step to restore the nation to some sense of calm and orderly behavior for a while? Obviously we’ll just decide to do the whole thing again, this time in Boston. Possibly. And it’s an obvious choice because Beantown is one of the cities which just hosted a rally on Sunday night protesting the original marchers in Virginia who set everything in motion down there. So the more right wing free speech marchers already have a built-in base of people with counter-protest signs freshly printed up waiting for them to arrive.

The police, who as of yesterday were still unsure whether or not the march was even happening, made their position clear. The free speech folks weren’t going to have any friends on their side from law enforcement. (CBS Boston)

City leaders and Boston Police held a press conference at 3 p.m. Monday to share what they know about the reported rally and its organizers.

The main focus is to keep any possible rally peaceful while giving everyone their rights to free speech, he said.

“We also have a message to the hate groups, especially any that plan to come to our city this weekend. Boston does not welcome you here. Boston does not want you here. Boston rejects your message. We reject racism, we reject white supremacy, we reject anti-Semitism, we reject the KKK, we reject ne0-Nazis, we reject domestic terrorism, and reject hatred. We will do every single thing in our power to keep hate out of our city.”

The Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, got in on the action pretty quickly. (Also CBS Boston)

“We don’t need this type of hate,” said Walsh. “So my message is clear to this group. We don’t want you in Boston. We don’t want you on Boston Common. We don’t want you spewing the hate that we saw yesterday, and the loss of life.”

There appears to be some serious confusion over this event. Shortly after it was announced, the rally organizers tweeted that the rally was cancelled. They claim that they have a permit in hand, approved by the city, but that nobody at the police department or the Mayor’s office is returning their calls. The Mayor is claiming that nobody applied for a permit. Obviously someone was confused.

But in short order, by nine o’clock Monday night, the organizers put out another statement saying that the rally was back on, though at least one of the speakers had cancelled, fearing that police were going to allow it to turn into a riot.

I’m really of mixed emotions on this one. I can’t pin down exactly who all is behind the group “Boston Free Speech” which is organizing the effort, but they’re going to need to be cautious at a minimum. On the one hand, there’s got to be some trepidation about a repeat of Charlottesville so close on the heels of that riot. But at the same time, if you simply cancel your event – agree with their message or not – you’ve basically said that people can have their right to assemble and speak their minds cancelled out by mob mentality. If enough people don’t like what you’re saying you can be silenced.

And therein lies the problem. That’s exactly the opposite of how this is supposed to work. We don’t have a First Amendment to protect popular speech because nobody is trying to shut them up. It’s there to protect controversial or even, yes, hateful speech. (I’m not saying that’s what’s planned in Boston since the agenda hasn’t been formally announced yet.) If you don’t protect their speech, then the government could be shutting down yours next.

The City of Boston is faced with either a great danger or a tremendous opportunity. Their Mayor needs to apologize for saying, “We don’t want you here” and all the rest. He’s supposed to be protecting the rights and safety of everyone in the city, not just the people he agrees with. And he needs to make sure that the police are ready to shut down physical violence the moment it erupts… even if the ones throwing the first punches are the so-called “anti-hate” counter-protesters. If he can manage all of that it will be a victory for democracy. If he can’t… Katy bar the door.