Texas A&M University canceled a “white lives matter” rally. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh vows to keep opposing sides from clashing directly.
After events in Charlottesville, Va., showed how much violence white nationalist rallies could provoke, police chiefs from Richmond, Va., to Boston were taking steps to avoid a repeat of a situation in which the police appeared to have little control of the crowd, the New York Times reports. Texas A&M University canceled a “white lives matter” rally at which Richard Spencer, a white supremacist leader, was to appear, citing safety concerns. At rallies like the one in Charlottesville, fueled by overt displays of racism, attended by members of self-described militias, and attracting counterprotesters, many demonstrators are legally and openly carrying firearms, including semiautomatic weapons. Instead of protesters versus police, as has often been the case in recent years, the situation is civilian versus civilian, with some participants spoiling for a fight.
A crucial technique is keeping opposing sides apart, which the police tried and failed to do in Charlottesville. In the hours leading up to the rally, people fought in full view of police officers. “Charlottesville turned into a riot,” said Boston Mayor Martin Walsh. “Both sides were able to connect. In our city, we will do everything we can that those two sides never connect.” John Eterno, a former New York City police trainer who teaches at Molloy College, said the presence of weapons combined with the unexpectedly large crowds in Charlottesville might have thrown off that city’s planning. When people have the right to carry firearms, the police must balance caution with respect, he said. The Charlottesville police have faced a hailstorm of criticism. Witnesses said officers did little as violent confrontations unfolded in front of them. Officials defended their response, noting the lack of property damage. Charlottesville police chief Al Thomas acknowledged that there were times when police officers were spread too thinly.