Barbara Howard: This is All Things Considered, I'm Barbara Howard. The march and rally on Boston Common Saturday was notably peaceful, but there were a few exceptions. Very few white supremacists showed up. They were far, far outnumbered by the 40,000 who were gathered there for a counter protest, but some people did show up on Boston Common wearing Trump T-shirts or carrying Trump banners, that sort of thing. And more often than not, that resulted in them being shouted down, with police quickly swooping in to escort them to safety. But there were also images from the rally of some of the 40,000 counter protesters who did step up to protect those who found themselves in the middle of a hostile crowd. And one of them was Imani Williams. She's on the line. Thanks for joining us, Imani.
Imani Williams: Thank you, Barbara for having me.
Barbara Howard: Let's say right off the bat that you are a 27-year-old black woman, you work at a hospital in New Haven, Connecticut and what, you came up to Boston?
Imani Williams: Yep, I came up to Boston with a couple of friends. We weren't really sure it was going to happen there after Charlottesville. So you know, I brought extra medical supplies, like I wasn't sure how many people were going to show up.
Barbara Howard: So take me back there. You're standing – what, were you in the grass, you're behind a barricade? What, a guy shows up, what? Tell me physically – what did you see?
Imani Williams: I saw a confrontation happening with a Trump supporter in the middle of getting escorted by two police officers. The crowd of about 30 people was swirling around them, making it hard to move forward, and I knew I could help the situation. I thought it was important to step in. So I went in, I was kind of was behind him, and I just kind of put my hand on his backpack and after just telling him I was there to help him, I helped clear the way. I was like, “Guys, he's not going to learn anything from us standing in a circle screaming at him.
Barbara Howard: So you put your hand on this man's backpack. Did he react to you at all?
Imani Williams: At that point, I had kind of gained his trust and I told him "I'm here to help you, I just want to get you through to the other side." I kind got brushed off a few times, but had just held my ground and said, you know, I'm just going to stand here till this guy realizes that I'm on his side for now, for this moment – not in general – and ready to help. At one point, I had said to him, I don’t agree with your ideals, but I will help you now. He said thank you, but that was pretty much all we spoke. I didn't really speak to him, I didn't really look at him, and I didn't really look at any – I started off with one guy, and by the time he got through the crowd, I had like five or six guys that just decided, they were like, "Hey can I come with you?" and I was like "Sure."
Barbara Howard: OK, so you pushed through the crowd, and then where did you end up?
Imani Williams: Once we got through the mass group of people, it kind of dispersed. And once I knew that they were safe, I said "You guys have to go all the way around, I'm not going to bring you, but I think you're safe at this point."
Barbara Howard: Now you were quoted in The Boston Globe saying, “We shouldn't be like them. It's the right thing to do at the end of the day. We're all part of the same country. It's unfortunate what's happening, but the response we should have is to be nonviolent.” That's what the Globe quoted you as saying in the moment.
Imani Williams: Absolutely. I didn't want things to escalate.
Barbara Howard: So, you know, a partner at a law firm, Prince Lobel Tye, a media group focusing on journalists and first amendment free speech issues, wrote about you and here's what he said in his writings. He said “In my view, she" – she being you, Imani – "she is a first amendment and civil rights hero, someone who by her example, reminds us to heed the voice of the better angels of our nature.” Want to respond to that?
Imani Williams: I've always been humble by nature, so all of this positive attention is overwhelming, it’s appreciated. But I just always consider myself a face in the crowd. I knew that the message of nonviolence was more important than me possibly putting myself at risk. And I did not support this man. I don't support his agenda. I don't support his ideals, but I do support the first amendment freedom of speech in the United States.
Barbara Howard: Thank you, Imani.
Imani Williams: Thank you.
Barbara Howard: That's Imani Williams of New Haven, Connecticut, who stepped in to help a Trump supporter who was being heckled Saturday on Boston Common. This is All Things Considered.