As free speech activists, white supremacists, Donald Trump supporters, Antifa, Black Lives Matter protesters, and others converged on Boston on Saturday, one exchange led to a man with a gun sprinting away from the Boston Police Department.
The man was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, and according to witnesses attempted to pull out a gun on the black man he was arguing with.
In the moments prior to his arrest, he and a small group of men gathered on Boylston Street, just outside of Boston Common. Some of their clothing identified them as supporters of Donald Trump, with a few wearing MAGA hats. As the conversation escalated, counter-protesters asked attendees of the “Free Speech” rally why they viewed themselves (white people) as superior. In response, one man replied that “race doesn’t matter, as long as you’re American.” At which point one of the counter-protesters thought that he saw one of the men in the MAGA hats reach for a gun, and then alerted police.
That’s when the man in the MAGA hat took off, attempting to run from the cops, who chased after him. He was apprehended just a short distance away, police confiscating his firearm and taking him into custody. The Boston Police Department also arrested two men with artillery vests.
At a 4:30 pm media availability, more than an hour after the masses cleared out, police went into minor detail about the gun incident. Commissioner William Evans said, “We don’t really know if they’re white supremacists, but I can tell you the three we did arrest had a ballistic [vest], and when we brought them and the vests back to the station, one had a gun.”
— Sarah Betancourt (@sweetadelinevt) August 19, 2017
A friend of the armed man arrested who identified himself to these reporters as Luke said that he came to the “Free Speech” rally from the Worcester area. He told DigBoston that “his buddy works with security and must have forgot he had it on him.” He was visibly aggravated, adding that the friend who was arrested was supposed to give him a ride to his niece’s birthday party.
Addressing reporters alongside Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Commissioner Evans said, “We had some kids block the street, and they got a little confrontational,” speaking about the clashes on Boylston Street (at the time of this writing, there was a total of 33 reported arrests). He continued, “They were given every option to leave, but the officers; they were getting bottles, they were getting pushed and I think they did a good job handling it.”
The police claim that bottles of urine and empty bottles were thrown at them from scaffolding, and aerial television footage that has been released in the time since shows something resembling a bottle get tossed in one shot. Officials were less willing to share details about their own operation and force; some outlets have reported the presence of more than 500 uniformed cops and SWAT members, but Evans declined to comment on the matter.
Defending his department’s strategy, Evans said that he told counter-protest organizers his plans from the beginning: “I think we got the First Amendment people in, we got them out.” The commissioner did not comment on, nor express regret about the massive militarized police force and residual shoving, arrests, and injuries that occurred as his department protected the infinitesimal “Free Speech” crowd.
About two hours before the afternoon press conference, President Donald Trump himself gave an account of affairs that closely resembled that relayed by Walsh and BPD: “Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart! Thank you.” The president continued: “Great job by all law enforcement officers and Boston Mayor @Marty_Walsh.”
Asked about the endorsement, Evans refused to comment on Trump’s tweets. “I’m not going to comment on politics,” the commissioner said.
Additional reporting for this story was provided by Nate Homan and other DigBoston and Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism reporters who were on the scene.
Sarah is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal.