August 20, 2017

On Beacon Hill: Free, but not welcome, speech

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Baker selfie

State House News Service/Sam Doran

Gov. Charlie Baker takes a selfie with Pete Frates after signing the “Ice Bucket Challenge Week” law.

 


Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

It would be virtually impossible to so quickly forget the racial violence that erupted in Charlottesville last weekend, but political leaders at all levels of government this week were preoccupied with making sure they would not be condemned to a repeat of it.

Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, in particular, were joined at the hip for much of the week as they united in press conferences, op/eds and safety meetings to condemn white nationalists and neo-Nazis and make it clear how they felt about a “Free Speech” rally planned for yesterday by conservative groups for Boston Common.

Baker and the Legislature also partnered Thursday to pass a resolution and sign a  proclamation denouncing white supremacy that they planned to send to the White House, the Virginia governor and the mayor of Charlottesville.

Coming on the heels of the Charlottesville protests, organizers of the Boston rally said they don’t support white nationalism, but a controversial list of speakers and the potential to draw unsavory elements had police and public officials on edge heading into yesterday.

The fears were not realized as counter-protestors vastly outnumbered those attending the rally. Boston Police reported 33 arrests, according to reports.

“99.9 percent of the people here were here for the right reason, and that is to fight bigotry and hate,” Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said.

The First Amendment being what it is, the city issued a permit for the event that drew thousands of counter-protesters. Officials hoped for the best while planning for the worst.

Charlie Baker

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker said that “there is no place here for that type of hatred — period — that we saw in Virginia.”

“As governor of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, I want to be clear that there is no place here for that type of hatred — period — that we saw in Virginia,” Baker said in one of several statements he made over the course of the week.

The governor’s rhetoric seemed to escalate in intensity as the days wore on and a furor grew over President Trump’s response to the violence. Eyes in Massachusetts turned to him for moral leadership, or at least an indication of where he fell on the spectrum.

Trump, of course, condemned the violence, but with great emphasis took the position that “both sides” were to blame for the confrontation that led to the death of Heather Heyer in Virginia.

In comments made during a combative press conference criticized for giving comfort to racism, Trump chose to also blame the “alt-left” that showed up to protest the gathering of white supremacists who marched, ostensibly, in protest of the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Baker’s condemnation of Trump’s response went from deep disappointment to something more, and earned him a shout out from the head of the Democratic Governor’s Association — Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy — who challenged the GOP in his own state to follow Baker’s lead.

“His offensive rhetoric and failure to condemn white supremacy in Charlottesville highlights a failure of the Trump administration to properly address issues that matter to people of color and promote unity and tolerance across our nation,” Baker would say.

The challenge of confronting this country’s racial history is not relegated to places like Charlottesville or communities in the South, either.

While grounds of public parks like those at the State House may be dotted with statues of J.F.K. and Horace Mann instead of General Lee, the city of Boston has its own ugly history of racism to contend with and that also came to the fore this week.

Red Sox owner John Henry said the team was ready to make a push to rename Yawkey Way, and House Majority Whip Byron Rushing has filed legislation to take the Yawkey name off the commuter rail station in the Fens.

Tom Yawkey, of course, was the longtime owner of the Boston Red Sox. He was a philanthropist and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was also, according to many reports, racist toward black ballplayers and a major reason why the hometown nine were the last team in Major League League Baseball to integrate in 1959.

Walsh made some vaguely supportive comments of Henry’s call for renaming the street that runs alongside Fenway Park, but on Friday he brushed aside questions on the topic suggesting it should be left for another day to discuss.

–Matt Murphy

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