Shouting matches erupted when a small group of about 10 protesters at a West Roxbury rally in support of President Donald Trump and the Back the Blue, or pro-police movement, were met with more than 100 counter-protesters Wednesday afternoon.

The two groups chanted “blue lives matter” and “Black lives matter” at one another from across the Holy Name rotary, over barricades of police officers, toward individual counter-protesters.

Roxbury-based activist Ernst Jean-Jacques screamed at Back the Blue organizer Diana Ploss, while Ploss, a Stoughton resident, screamed back, their two dueling megaphones rising above the cacophonous crowd.

A few feet away from the crowd, Amirah Redwing, 14, stood facing the street, holding a hand-drawn sign reading “BLM.”

“I grew up here,” Redwing said. “It’s really sad to see kids I grew up with, them and their parents, disagree when I say that Black lives matter. Systemic racism is something that affects me, and to see people that I’ve known my whole life disagree with that is really heartbreaking.”

Amirah Redwing, 14, of Dorchester, holds a sign that reads "BLM."
Tori Bedford GBH News

Redwing, a high school freshman who now lives in Dorchester, said she’s disappointed to see protests in support of police and the Trump presidency in the predominantly white neighborhood where she grew up. “I don’t think this should be up for debate. I don’t think this is political,” she said. “The word ‘matter’ is such a simple word. I’m just asking you to hear me, to hear how tired I am.”

The rally, which organizers called a “MAGAchusetts” protest, took place following Tuesday night’s first debate between Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden. Moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump to denounce white supremacy, and in response, Trump referenced the Proud Boys, a vocal group of white supremacists, telling them to "stand back" and "stand by."

Stephen Harms, a 55-year-old Roslindale resident who wore a bright red Make America Great Again baseball cap to Wednesday's rally, said Trump’s answer was an appropriate response.

“He's just telling them to stop, you know, stand down,” Harms said. “That's what you do when you're in a war, you stand down. There's no more firing, it’s done.”

Harms said he doesn’t think Trump is a white supremacist. “I think he's for American supremacy, not Black, not white, not Hispanic. … American supremacy,” Harms said. “You know, we have a great nation, and we want to keep it great.”

Ploss, who is not a West Roxbury resident, received criticism online after posting the event to a private West Roxbury community Facebook group. “Stop doing Trump stuff with police support stuff,” one commenter wrote. “It perpetuates the idea that cops are racist and puts them in even more danger.”

Decked out in a Trump hat, Trump shirt and holding a Trump flag, West Roxbury resident Walter Major said he disagrees with the criticism of the event.

“I think you have a lot of people in West Roxbury that support Trump, but they're afraid to show it because signs have been stolen and taken away,” Major said. “I have not heard one story where you've seen a Biden sign taken.”

Protester Walter Major, of West Roxbury
Protester Walter Major, of West Roxbury.
Tori Bedford GBH News

Several counter-protesters confronted Ploss directly, chanting “Diana got fired” in reference to Ploss’ termination in July from New Hampshire radio station WSMN Broadcasting, where she hosted “The Diana Ploss Show.” Ploss filmed herself berating employees of a landscaping company for not speaking English, which led the station to cancel her show. At the protest, Ploss repeated the comments that resulted in her termination into her megaphone: “In America, you should speak English!”

West Roxbury resident Tonya Tedesco, who organizes a weekly vigil at the Holy Name rotary to support the Black Lives Matter movement, said she finds it “hopeful” that so many counter-protesters showed up to Wednesday’s action. “Diana Ploss is not from Boston. She comes from the suburbs and tries to instigate this,” she said.

“Not everyone's comfortable bringing their kids to confront fascists, so Monday is more of a vigil, even though we do have people come and yell at us,” Tedesco said. “But we show up when we can do it quietly and easily, and we show up when it’s harder.”

Emily Restivo, a West Roxbury resident who said she attends the vigil every Monday, said she was “not surprised” to see the clash.

“I think if it's going to be anywhere, it would probably be in West Roxbury,” Restivo said. “I'm here every Monday with the local protesters, and it's a whole different scene, and it's peaceful and people are just here to say Black lives matter. And it's hard to see it become … this.”

Families with young children, many of whom regularly attend the Monday vigils, stood on the edge of the crowd as Ploss, live-streaming on Facebook, accused them of “child endangerment.”

Steven Lewis, 36, with his son Desmond, 7, of West Roxbury.
Tori Bedford GBH News

West Roxbury resident Steven Lewis said he brought his 7-year-old son, Desmond, to the protest because “it's important to show him that this is American,” Lewis said. “We went to a protest on the Fourth of July, and I wanted him to see that being an American isn’t just watching fireworks and eating barbecue — it’s dissenting against what we think is wrong.”

After two hours of verbal conflicts between the dueling groups, police officers formed a tight human barricade around Ploss and the remaining pro-Trump demonstrators. As the scheduled time arrived for the action to end, Ploss walked back towards the police station, followed by the raucous crowd of counter-protesters.

An officer urged Ploss to allow police to escort her to her car, which she initially resisted. “You said this would be over at five [o'clock],” the officer said. “You are putting us in danger.”

Ploss turned course, waving to the parade of supporters and counter-protesters who followed her across the street, laughing as her Facebook livestream continued via her phone, hoisted on a tripod above her head. As the group began to circle in once again, Ploss stepped into the back of a Boston Police vehicle, which then drove off, and the crowd dispersed.

Boston Police officers encircle protesters at a pro-police, pro-Trump rally, surrounded by Black Lives Matter counter-protesters.
Tori Bedford GBH News