Division over the Black Lives Matter movement in Boston was on display Saturday, as hundreds gathered for a peaceful rally supporting mothers outside Trinity Church, while a frenetic pro-police demonstration near the State House was roiled by angry opposition to white supremacists in their midst and clashes with counterprotesters.
The March Like a Mother for Black Lives Boston rally came as people nationwide call for an end to police violence against Black Americans and the dismantling of systemic racism that continues to plague the nation.
Saturday’s rally by and for mothers at Trinity Church, which supported the event, had speakers addressing the crowd from the church steps, with a Black Lives Matter banner draped above them. Most of the participants were Black mothers, but they had a diverse group of supporters, including their families, young Black men, and people of other races.
“A mother’s love is radical, and it’ll make you do things you didn’t think you could do,” said one of the event’s cofounders, Latoya Gayle.
At the State House, an often charged scene unfolded as Super Happy Fun America held a “Restore Sanity” rally Saturday afternoon in support of law enforcement and critical of the protests. The group organized last year’s Straight Pride Parade in Boston.
About 50 people participated in the event, but they were outnumbered by hundreds of counterprotesters who chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “Go home, racists” from across Beacon Street.
A group of self-identified “pro-white” fraternity members, one of whom had a swastika tattoo, were labeled Nazis by pro-police speakers and told repeatedly by organizers to leave the event, which supported law enforcement.
The pro-police rally and counterprotesters were kept apart by police and metal barricades.
“We’re here today to support the hard-working men and women of law enforcement who’ve been attacked by this false narrative — and you know damn well it’s a false narrative,” said John Hugo, president of Super Happy Fun America. “Police are not out hunting people and murdering people. It’s a lie.”
No arrests were made at Saturday’s demonstrations in the city, said Boston police Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a department spokesman.
The demonstrations follow the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died on Memorial Day while in Minneapolis police custody. Four officers have been charged in Floyd’s death.
About an hour before the noon start of the mothers’ rally, Gayle and Sarah Iddrissu, another event cofounder, weaved in and out of the crowd of volunteers, coordinating the final details of an event they had spend the past two weeks planning.
More than 30 volunteers gathered behind tables on St. James Avenue and in Copley Square, passing out T-shirts and breakfast food, distributing masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer.
Strollers and baby carriages were scattered throughout the crowd, and toddlers ran freely through the square. The large multiracial crowd included a number of young families.
Gayle, 41, is the mother of two teenagers and a 5-year-old. Iddrissu, who has an 18-month-old boy, said her son’s birth made organizing for justice all the more urgent.
In a video recording of the moments before Floyd’s death — when an officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck — he said he couldn’t breathe, and called out for his mother.
“When a grown man is calling for his mother, you see a child. You see your child,” Iddrissu said.
Among the volunteers were members of the Kappa Alpha Psi alumni chapter in Boston; the fraternity brothers’ red shirts stood out in the crowd as they passed out yellow roses to attendees and coordinated with March Like a Mother volunteers to monitor the crowd.
Marcus Bishop, 33, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi alumni chapter, said Black mothers bear the grief of seeing their sons die at the hands of police, and he wanted to support them.
“We talk a lot about Black lives, but we need to talk about Black mothers as well,” Bishop said. “I know I love my mom and everything she’s done for me.”
Another volunteer was Angel Harris, 41, who has an 18-year-old daughter headed to Spelman College in Atlanta in the fall.
“As a mother, and also as a woman of color, I just felt it was my duty to be a part of this,” she said.
A number of educators volunteered and rallied, including Mary Beth Callahan, 60, a teacher who lives in Milton. Callahan, who is white, wore a shirt made by one of her former students. It read in crisp, all-cap letters: “I stand with Black women.”
“I’m here to march like a mother,” Callahan said. “I’m marching for all of my students.”
Among speakers at the event was Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who promised change.
“I am not just a Black woman ... I am your district attorney and proud to be so,” she said. “We must all march like mothers, fight like mothers, and love like mothers.”
In contrast to the activity at the church, the scene was antagonistic outside the State House, where counterprotesters confronted the rally organized by Super Happy Fun America.
Speakers said they wanted to draw attention to police who have died, as well as those killed in violence that followed some Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Some protesters carried signs that had messages like “Blue Lives Matter” and “Police Are Essential.”
Chau Kelley, a New Hampshire resident who spoke at the “Restore Sanity” rally, at one point yelled into a microphone at the hundreds of counterprotesters across the street: “Are you people Americans?”
Rinaldo Del Gallo, a Western Massachusetts attorney who said he was a progressive and spoke at the “Restore Sanity” rally, stated that the event’s main purpose was “to protest the looting and the rioting.”
Several counterprotesters were able to move among participants in the Super Happy Fun America rally. As two women sang “Amazing Grace” during the law enforcement event, a man in a green shirt grabbed a microphone from one woman and began shouting “Black Lives Matter!”
Super Happy Fun America protest organizers repeatedly disavowed the presence of white supremacists at their demonstration. A man who said he was part of the group, but declined to give his name, described his associates as part of a “pro-white” fraternity.
Despite his claims that the group is not a neo-Nazi or white supremacist organization, one of the men wearing the group’s T-shirts at the rally displayed a Nazi swastika tattoo on his right calf.
Super Happy Fun America speakers using sound equipment struggled to make themselves heard over the din of the nearby counterprotesters, who chanted “Nazis, go home” and “Nazi scum.”
“I denounce Nazism and white supremacy. You are not welcome here,” one speaker at the Super Happy Fun America rally said. “I am a Black man, and not for resegregation.”
Super Happy Fun America, which has denied its organizers and events are bigoted, has ties to the far right. A Straight Pride Parade organizer, Mark Sahady, is part of Resist Marxism, a group founded by a leader with a history of violence. The group put together the 2017 “Free Speech” rally on Boston Common, when thousands of counterprotesters descended on the city.
Sahady, Super Happy Fun America’s vice president, said in an interview Saturday: “We are here today supporting blue lives matter, and we’re remembering the victims that died in the mob violence.”
He said that the counterprotesters had a First Amendment right to be there, but “a lot of them are communists; they support riots.”
Jason Horowitz, a 48-year-old Boston resident among the counterprotesters, held a sign that read, “Save Guantanamo for white supremacists.”
Regarding those rallying in support of law enforcement across the street, he said, “It’s hard to believe that they even believe what they’re saying.”
”Why don’t they say who they are?” he asked. “They’re full of hate; they’re full of racism.”
Danny McDonald can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald. Dasia Moore is the Globe Magazine's staff writer. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @daijmoore. John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.