One week after the deadly white supremacist rally and counter-protest in Charlottesville, Va., more than 30,000 demonstrators assembled on the Boston Common in response to a rally that was rumored to include white nationalist speakers. While coverage of the counter-protest dominated the news, little is known about what actually happened at the rally on the Common's Parkman Bandstand.
Why? Because Boston officials prevented journalists from covering the event and set up barricades about 40-50 yards wide around the Bandstand. Not just did this keep reporters from doing their jobs—documenting and reporting on the event—but also suppressed their First Amendment rights, which includes freedom of the press.
Rally organizers are now planning another event on November 18, prompting a coalition of advocates to send a letter today urging Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Police Commissioner William Evans to ensure press have access. The groups — the New England First Amendment Coalition, the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, the New England chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Massachusetts — requested a meeting to discuss how the city can provide security while also protecting First Amendment rights.
“The press has a right to be where members of the public are,” the letter says. “We stand ready to engage in a dialogue about methods to protect public safety in a manner that comports with important First Amendment principles.”
Specifically, we are asking city officials to do the following:
- Revise press access procedures and make them public before November 11
- Allow close-up access by credentialed journalists to public areas where speakers assemble
- Ensure that no member of the press is given less access than any member of the public
The need for safety is a given. But security measures must not infringe on First Amendment rights. The city must make changes to ensure reporters have access to public demonstrations and can adequately cover them for the public.
Photo: Crowds of counter-protestors look across the large perimeter surrounding the Parkman Bandstand rally on August 19, 2017.