Boston 'Free Speech' Rally Organizer John Medlar Criticizes Rally Setup And Promises Future Events

August 21, 2017

The organizer behind Saturday's so-called "free speech" rally — protested by tens of thousands people — says his group will be back with future events.

“You haven’t seen the last of us,” John Medlar, a spokesman for the Boston Free Speech Movement, told Adam Reilly when he joined him on Greater Boston along with former Boston Police Superintendent-in-Chief Dan Linskey and WGBH News Reporter Bianca Vázquez Toness.

Fewer than 100 people came out to the Parkman Bandstand for a rally organizers said was aimed at promoting free speech. However, many were concerned some of the speakers would be promoting discriminatory and racists beliefs. In response, 40,000 to turn out to protest.

In an effort to avoid a repeat of violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia a week prior — which killed one woman — Boston Police kept the two groups in entirely separate areas of the common. The move was criticized by Medlar who said it denied his group of their right to free speech because no one could hear them and several people could not even get to them.

According to the group's permit for the event, the group could have used a battery-powered amplifier, but there was no amplifier Saturday. When asked why, Medlar said, "We were worried about the cost, but that's probably an investment that we're going to have to make for a future event. We've never done anything this big before. There were things that we did not foresee, and an amplifier would have been extremely helpful." 

Asked what the public would have heard if they were able to get closer, Medlar said, “they would have heard us talking about first amendment related issues ... This wasn’t just an event for anyone to come in and just say whatever the heck they want. When we say this is a free speech rally, we meant this is a rally about the issue of free speech and that’s what everyone of the 14 people we had on our list came here to speak about.”

“There’s no exact science to this,” said Linskey about the buffer zone between the groups, noting that police in Charlottesville did not put enough distance between the protesters. “There was intelligence that people were intent on throwing bottles of acid … that people were going to throw bottles acid at the speakers and rally participants."

Police said the hours-long event was mostly peaceful and deemed it a success. In all, police say 33 arrests were made — including in some incidents where people threw bottles of urine and other projectiles at officers.

To watch the full interview, click on the video player above.

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