Police Commissioner Bill Evans responded to criticism that the Boston Police failed to protect the media’s right to cover a “Free Speech Rally” on the Boston Common, saying there was “no deliberate attempt” to prevent anyone from hearing the message of the activist group.
“It wasn’t a deliberate attempt not to hear their message. The attempt was not to have the media in a place that would create problems,” Evans told Boston Public Radio in an interview Tuesday. “It wasn’t my fault that the ‘free speech’ people basically showed up with a minor amplifying device.”
Boston Police ushered speakers and guests attending the “Free Speech Rally”to and from the Parkman Bandstand, but the event ended abruptly when the available speaker system could not amplify the message.
“Those people should have brought a half-decent amplifying device so that everybody would hear them,” Evans said.
Reporters were blocked by a barrier of about 50 yards surrounding the bandstand, a restriction that drew criticism from local media for limiting journalists' access to the event.
In a statement issued the day before the event, the department announced restrictions for the media: “There will be NO designated media staging area inside the Common,” it said. “Media Members are expected to remain mobile and refrain from long term stationary reporting which may incite and attract participants. NO media personnel will be allowed inside the barricaded area around the Bandstand.”
Evans drew even more criticism after he told WBUR reporter Zininjor Enwemeka that the restricted access wasn’t just about keeping everyone safe.
“We had a job to do,” Evans said. “We did a great job. I’m not going to listen to people who come in here and want to talk about hate. And you know what? If they didn’t get in, that’s a good thing because their message isn’t what we want to hear.”
The “Free Speech Rally” was countered by at least two separate counter-protests, “Stand For Solidarity” at the State House and “Fight Supremacy,” also at the Common, which drew a collective 40,000 people. Evans said if the roles had been reversed, with “Free Speech” advocates in the thousands, he would have restricted media access in the exact same way.
“I wouldn’t have changed it,” Evans said. “I’ve been on this job for 37 years, [and] I’ve watched how the media can agitate a crowd. Believe me, every special event we do, we pen the media. I wish we had penned them closer to the bandstand, but it wasn’t our fault that [the “Free Speech” activists] didn’t show up with an amplifying device. Everyone could have heard them loud and clear.”
According to Evans, the media had already agitated the crowd via coverage, and the police were concerned about further agitation.
“The media, for six days, built that up as if it was going to be World War III,” he said. “They basically blew this thing out of proportion to make it a lot worse than it was going to be.”
To hear Police Commissioner Bill Evans’ full interview with “Boston Public Radio,” click on the audio player above.