Update: A small group of protesters were back at the mayor's house this morning - with cowbells.
Boston Police will confiscate bullhorns and other noisemakers if the anti-vax protesters who have been gathering outside Mayor Wu's Roslindale home try to use them again, E-5 Capt. Darrin Greeley tonight told residents fed up with the noise and the effect on neighborhood children.
The protesters, who think requiring city employees to get Covid-19 shots is the first step on the road to concentration camps, have not shown up in Roslindale the past couple of days. Instead, they've been noisily gathering outside the South Boston home of City Council President Ed Flynn, who has backed the mayor's Covid-19 policies - and decried the anti-Asian insults hurled by protesters - Greeley told about 30 residents at a meeting at E-5 in West Roxbury. He predicted, however, they will return to Roslindale.
Residents asked for the meeting to see if there is anything police can do to quiet the protesters if not get them out of the neighborhood - and to get them to stop screaming anti-Asian insults and yelling about Hitler and kids growing up without their parents. They said they were concerned both about Wu's young children, who have to listen to the amplified ranting, and other neighborhood children who have to hear the taunting as well.
"How is this not disturbing the peace?" one resident asked.
"When you start going after children, we need to draw the line," another said.
"There's a big difference engaging in protest and engaging in harassment," yet another said.
"Take it to City Hall, take it someplace else," one resident said.
"I feel terrible for you guys," Greeley said, adding he knows what it's like because the protesters, led by one of his own sergeants, have taken to yelling "Nazi!" at on-duty BPD officers protecting their objects of their ire, whether the mayor or workers at Fenway and Mission Hill restaurants. He added that he now has five officers stationed outside the mayor's house each morning - which is in addition to her BPD security detail.
Beyond taking away their amplification, though, Greeley said there's not much else he can do: The mayor lives on a public street and the Constitution gives people the right to protest in public spaces, even in residential neighborhoods.
The First Amendment gives them the right to whine about Hitler and China. Residents asked about criminal harassment of children through their chants and screams. He said that since the protests are aimed at Wu specifically, she herself would have to come out and complain to police about specific screamers - something she has yet to do - he said.
One thing Greeley urged the residents not to do is directly confront the protesters. They live for that and want to get people angry and maybe even goad them into fights, he said.
He continued that he will order his officers to make arrests only as an absolute last resort, in part because the protesters want that, too - it's good publicity for them and will only draw in more people.
"You want 300 people showing up at that corner [outside the mayor's house]?" he asked. "You want buses of people?" Because that's what would happen if police did start arresting protesters, he said.
He also said his officers have begun using back-channel communications to try to get the protesters to lay off the amplification - a message he sent more directly to one protester who, quietly, attended the meeting.
Greeley continued, however, that protest leader Shana Cottone, until recently an E-5 sergeant, might face greater scrutiny internally, in addition to the current investigation that led to her current suspension and the loss of her service gun. In response to a resident who asked whether he thought her actions were acceptable, Greeley said, "No, it's not OK, it's not OK."
Two residents disagreed with the others at the meeting. One of them basically accused Wu of bringing the protests down on the neighborhood and said if she really wanted to stop them, she should just leave for work earlier in the morning. Her husband, who started to argue against vaccination before he was forced to shut up, told the residents that the real reason police haven't arrested protesters is because "they do not enforce your will, they enforce the law."