Metro
    Next Score View the next score

    Would you take kids to protest Saturday’s ‘free speech’ rally?

    Barricades were set up surrounding the bandstand on the Boston Common in advance of the weekend rally.
    Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
    Barricades were set up surrounding the bandstand on the Boston Common in advance of the weekend rally.

    Her children have joined her to march for science and to walk for peace, but they won’t be at Saturday’s protests around downtown and on the Common.

    “We’ve been to all the other rallies, but it seems the mayor and everyone is concerned that this one could go bad,” said Nicole Doyle, a 33-year-old mom from Quincy.

    The Women’s March. The March for Science. Black Lives Matter demonstrations. These recent spate of protests have collectively attracted hundreds of thousands of people to downtown, including many families who brought children carrying colorful handmade signs.

    Advertisement

    But as the city girds for Saturday, when the Boston Free Speech Coalition — which civil rights advocates say is linked to people who espouse racial hatred and violence — is sponsoring a speaker’s event and rally on Boston Common, many parents say they’re keeping their kids at home.

    Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
    Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
    Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

    They have reason: the event has raised substantial concern among city officials in light of last weekend’s violence at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., where a white nationalist allegedly drove into a crowd of people, killing a woman, and two state troopers died in a helicopter crash.

    Organizers of the Boston rally say their event is all about the First Amendment and freedom of expression, and that they denounce violence.

    Counterprotests organized downtown could draw tens of thousands of people, organizers predicted. City officials have pledged that more than 500 police officers will be working to keep the peace, and will end the event if it becomes violent.

    For Doyle, participation in recent protests show her children, ages 10 and 7, “how many people are around us who feel the same way that we do. And that everybody matters, that ultimately the world is a good place.”

    Advertisement

    Like a lot of civically-active parents, Doyle has had to balance concerns over safety with her sense of duty to raise her children to oppose racial intolerance.

    “I fear that if it does turn violent that having children there will force police officers to perhaps put themselves at risk because children are obviously not as able to defend themselves,” she said. “And I just really didn’t want to be any more of a burden, because I am sure they are overwhelmed.”

    She also wants to protect her kids from witnessing any bloodshed, she said.

    Kathryn Link, 54, of Brookline, said her 13-year-old daughter insists on coming to the counterrally, though Link said she will see Saturday morning how event are unfolding and assess the risks at that time. She also has a 19-year-old daughter who will decide for herself if she will attend.

    They attended the Woman’s March earlier this year and felt safe. But when leaving the Boston rally opposing President Trump’s travel ban, Link said her group encountered several young men who told Link’s Chinese-born daughter, then 12, to “go back to where you came from.”

    Advertisement

    “She was the only nonwhite person in our little group of people,” Link said of her daughter. “And there was just this moment of — wow. I didn’t have some smart response. It took me too long to say to her, basically, we are home. It was upsetting.”

    Link has been thinking of that incident ahead of Saturday’s protest.

    “I’m white; I can blend in,” she said. “I can choose when to confront intolerance. By my children and other people of color, they don’t have that choice. [She] was just walking down the street coming back from that protest, and that somehow invited them to confront her. She didn’t confront them.”

    “For people who are white it’s healthy sometimes to feel that fear and intolerance because we don’t on a day-to-day basis. It’s not healthy for my children. Because they experience that often, I think.”

    Boston police have “are recommending that people with strollers leave them at home, along with other large items,” the department said in a statement sent to the Globe through the mayor’s office. “We are expecting large crowds and often that can be an uncomfortable experience for young people. We are expecting a peaceful day.”

    Julia Sullivan, 35, of Scituate, brought her children to the March for Science, and last weekend to a Stand Against Hate rally in Plymouth, but they will not be coming to Boston on Saturday, because of safety concerns.

    Her children are ages 5, 3, and 8 months, Sullivan said.

    She said she’s glad they went to the Plymouth rally, which gave her the opportunity to teach her 5-year-old about the power of numbers and the need to stand up for what you believe in, as well as “to be kind and rise above hate.”

    But the atmosphere around the Boston event, she said, “is a little too volatile right now.”

    Mark Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark.