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Report from Boston: Stay Out of the "Free Speech Zone"

by Gan Golan 26 Jul


Last night, I had my first direct experience with the so-called free speech zone. It left me with one conclusion: whatever you do, do NOT go inside.

It’s not only a blatant offense to free speech, but also highly dangerous and unsafe. I would suggest protesting anywhere in Boston but inside of it.

No amount of hyperbole can accurately describe how disastrous the interior actually is. It’s like a scene from some post-apocalyptic movie – a futuristic, industrial detention area from a Mad Max film. You are surrounded on all sides by concrete blocks and steel fencing, with razor wire lining the perimeter. Then, there is a giant black net over the entire space.

[Pictures of the Boston “Free Speech Zone”]

That’s not even the worst part. 80% of the space is actually beneath a construction site. You heard me, most of the zone is actually under a partially constructed building, broken up by gates, iron girders and wooden rafters, in the darkness.

No helicopter will ever be able to see an aerial shot of the people assembled, negating the major points of mass protest: to let the rest of the public see your numbers. This forced’invisibility’ is so painfully obvious, that it is hard to believe it resulted from pure negligence.

What’s more, the space fits only 1000 maximum by law, so the 1001st person who wants to express their rights, is out of luck.

That’s not all. If you go inside, you won’t be left safely alone with your fellow protesters. Right above you will be a suspended catwalk of wooden rafters traveling down the middle of the protest area. This strip is not only covered with reams of barbed wire, but officers (or national guardsmen) will be strolling above you just feet from your head. After walking in, it took us about 2 seconds to agree; “there is no f***ing way we are stepping into this trap”.

And if you think that the civility of individual officers will make up for it, think again. As we were casually walking through the pen, our jaws open in dis-belief, a group of officers quickly surrounded us. Twenty-four of them. The first officer (Officer `Gately’) approached us swiftly, and declared, “Do you know that the willful destruction of public property in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a felony that carries 5 year in jail!”

We were taken aback by this introduction. Other people in suit and ties were walking by, using the zone as a pedestrian shortcut. a bunch of peaceniks were walking through in our shorts and backpacks and we were immediately suspect of committing a criminal act. I guess this explains the meaning of the rule about those wearing `inappropriate clothing’ being searched. The overtly intimidating tone of the interaction didn’t cease, so we soon left.

I called the BPD headquarters and asked to talk to the district 2 duty officer, in order to file a complaint about the rude treatment. When I asked him (Sgt. Ross) for Officer Gately’s ID#, he stated that he could not give me that information because after all, I could be “a member of the press, or an anarchist”. I guess myself (along with the press and anarchists) are no longer allowed to hold the police accountable for their actions.

A word of advice: Do not make the mistake of making your first visit to the free speech zone on your day of protest. It will be too late to realize what you are getting into.

It’s crazy to think that this is happening in Boston, a city that fronts a reputation of being a cradle of constitutional values. The city has tried to force free speech into a cage where it cannot survive. The only reasonable response is to exercise our rights everywhere but the protest zone.

By giving free speech an unacceptable location, the City of Boston has unwittingly declared that the entire city is now a free speech zone.


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