As the crowd swelled around the Donald Trump supporter wearing the camouflage hat, booing and spraying silly string at his head, Imani Williams decided to take action.
At first, she didn’t want to help — a part of her was entirely against it. But then compassion replaced resentment, and her better judgement kicked in.
With the assistance of Boston police, Williams pushed the man clear of hundreds of people gathered on Boston Common Saturday to counterprotest the so-called “Free Speech” rally. As she guided him toward the edge of the park and away from the scrum, several other apparent Trump supporters followed in the path she had forged.
A Globe reporter interviewed Williams when the dust settled, posting a recap of her efforts on Twitter as the events of the day carried on. By Saturday night, the tweet had been shared tens of thousands of times, including by author J.K. Rowling.
On a day when tensions were high and emotions were volatile, Williams's simple deed seemed to resonate with people around the world. She had put her political differences aside, and made human kindness her main focus.
“It’s the right thing to do at the end of the day,” Williams said at the time. “We’re all part of the same country. It’s unfortunate what’s happening, but the response we should have is to be nonviolent.”
This is Imani, from CT. She just escorted Trump supporters through a crowd as a situation escalated. Here's why in her words: pic.twitter.com/R8W7XN58jk— Steve Annear (@steveannear) August 19, 2017
Williams had gone to the rally not as an affiliate of any one organization, but as someone who wanted to take part in the massive counterprotests at the park. When she saw the confrontation break out with the man in the Trump hat, later identified as Sean Cronin, she knew he needed help. Others hurled insults his way, and in one case, someone spit at him.
Williams knew it could get worse.
So amid the chaos, she gripped the strap of Cronin’s backpack, and nudged him forward against the throngs of people.
As she worked her way through the crowd, another man grabbed Williams by the shoulder, leaned into her ear, and shouted, “Why are you protecting him?!”
But Williams, a die-hard soccer fan who is no stranger to riled crowds, just kept moving.
“Everybody clear the way!” she yelled above the booing, heckling masses. “Clear the way!”
As she guided Cronin, “five or six guys just [started] following behind me,” she later said, assuming they, too, were Trump supporters.
Once the group reached the park’s perimeter, and the crowd fizzled, Williams directed the men toward the area where they could join organizers of the “Free Speech Rally.” They quietly parted ways.
On Sunday, during a follow-up interview with the Globe via e-mail, and after her favorite author helped make a picture of Williams go viral, the 27-year-old Connecticut resident referenced a moment from one of her favorite books to further explain her decision to step up.
In “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” she said, Harry risks his own life to pull his sworn enemy, Draco Malfoy, from the cursed fire in the Room of Requirement.
Harry could have left Draco to die, she said. It would have been easier. But he didn’t.
“He knew it was the right thing to do even if he didn’t want to, even if he had to put himself at risk. And that’s what I did too,” she said. “Sometimes it’s difficult having a strong moral compass in a mixed-up world. But in this case, I saw where I could help and I did. That’s all you can ever do.”Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.