WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Cities across the United States are seeking ways to head off the kind of violence seen in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend when white nationalists and neo-Nazis clashed with counter-protesters over the planned removal of a Civil War-era statue.
As they step up efforts to pull such monuments from public spaces and brace for a right-wing backlash, municipalities are re-evaluating their approaches to crowd control, permits, weapon regulation and intelligence gathering.
White supremacists have been emboldened by statements from President Donald Trump. A potentially volatile demonstration with mostly right-wing speakers is set for Saturday in Boston, with other events coming in days ahead.
“When you have an environment of anger and people carrying weapons, and a president that is tossing gasoline on that, I think that America should be deeply concerned,” said Corey Saylor, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which tracks Muslim hate groups.
Mayors face a tug-of-war between ensuring public safety and respecting Americans’ cherished constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly, said experts and local leaders. The balancing act is further complicated by the right to carry guns, and even concealed weapons, in many states and cities.
“Certainly we recognize everyone’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech, but we’re also dedicated to freedom from fear,” said Allison Silberberg, mayor of Alexandria, Virginia, a city near Washington, D.C., that has long struggled with what to do about a Confederate statue in the middle of a major road.
Silberberg said she is looking forward to the result of a review of how Virginia cities handle permits for demonstrations that was ordered by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe after Charlottesville, where right-wing marchers had a permit.
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