Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans on Thursday urged returning college students to “act in a way that would make your school . . . proud” on Saturday, when a controversial “free speech” rally is expected to draw throngs of counterprotesters to Boston Common.
“Today, I am writing to ask for your help as we prepare for these events,” Evans wrote in an open letter to the student population. “As I have stated in the past, please act in a way that would make your school, your family, and your city proud and please respect our neighborhoods. Student behavior off campus will be regarded the same as if it were on campus.”
Evans’s letter came two days before the Boston Free Speech rally, an event slated to begin at noon Saturday. Organizers say the event is open to people across the political spectrum and not a forum for hate groups. But city officials fear violence might erupt between right-wing extremists and a large number of counterprotesters.
The police department said in a community advisory Thursday afternoon that “large crowds” were anticipated but it had a “comprehensive operational plan in place.”
Those plans, police said, include a large number of uniformed and undercover officers. Police will also deploy fixed and mobile video cameras.
Parking in and around the Common will be prohibited.
Police urged people attending not to bring backpacks, large bags, or strollers and advised them that, if they do, they may be subject to search.
Police said the following items will be banned from the Common:
■Firearms, knives, weapons, sharp objects, shields or fireworks
■Popup tents or canopies
■Cans, glass containers, pre-mixed beverages or alcoholic beverages
■Wagons or pull carts
■Pets (excluding certified service animals)
■Grills, propane tanks, or open flames
■Flagpoles, bats, clubs, sticks (including signs attached to sticks)
■Any athletic equipment or other item that could be used as a weapon
“The Boston Police Department expects all who will be attending events on the Boston Common to act respectfully and responsibly. The Department intends to provide a safe and peaceful opportunity for people to exercise their Constitutional rights. Violence or property damage of any kind will not be tolerated. Anyone engaging in illegal behavior is subject to arrest and prosecution to the fullest extent of the law,” police warned.
One keynote speaker for the “free speech” rally, Kyle Chapman, gained notoriety after smashing a post over the head of an antifascist protester at a march for President Trump in California.
Another scheduled speaker, Joe Biggs, is a former US Army staff sergeant who has pushed a conspiracy theory that claimed a pedophile ring with links to Hillary Clinton was operating out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. A man later showed up at the pizzeria and fired a military assault-style rifle.
The Boston rally is especially fraught with tension in the wake of violent confrontations between white nationalist demonstrators and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly.
“The Boston Police Department has worked closely with Mayor Martin Walsh and his team concerning these issues,” Evans wrote in his letter to students. “The Boston Police Department has developed a comprehensive plan that will assist in this process and that will ensure for the safety of all. Our main concern is safety.”