BOSTON — Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said on Tuesday that video footage is being reviewed as police continue their investigation into an alleged assault on a Black man by members of the white supremacist group that marched through the city over the weekend.
“The individuals who were involved with the assault of Mr. Murrell need to be prosecuted within the fullest extent of the law,” said Mayor Wu who added that the masks worn by members of the group “Patriot Front” to shield their Identities have presented a “hurdle.”
The vow to prosecute those involved in the alleged assault of Charles Murrell III followed a closed-door meeting at Boston Police Headquarters with the mayor, Boston Police Superintendent in Chief Greg Long, U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins, the special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division Joe Bonavolonta, Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden and other local politicians.
“This was a flash demonstration,” said Robert Trestan, New England Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League. “Flash demonstration — they keep it a secret. You don’t really know until they show up.”
Trestan said such surprise demonstrations are typical of the group involved — the Patriot Front.
“There’s certainly some lessons to be learned if it happens again,” Trestan said. “You need to be prepared that groups like this use a tactic of not calling in advance. They show up.”
The fact that the Patriot Front showed up, unannounced, was not illegal — but it raised questions among some in Boston’s black community about the city’s readiness to protect groups vulnerable to hate crimes.
US Attorney Rollins said pointed questions were also asked in that closed-door briefing about what the Boston Regional Intelligence Center and the Joint Terrorism Task Force might have known about planning by the group.
Rollins said questions were also raised about how police responded to the march, once it began.
“We are looking at, and we had a lot of pointed questions…If this were a Black Lives Matter protest would the response have been different than this white supremacist group,” said Rollins. “And I believe the Boston Police responded to those questions internally.”
She then asked a representative from the FBI or Boston Police to explain the response by the JTTF and BRIC.
The special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division Joe Bonavolonta said agents have strict guidelines for investigating groups like the Patriot Front.
“One item that we spent quite a bit of time talking about in the meeting today – it was a very clear definition and distinction of what the federal government can and cannot do when it comes to domestic terrorism investigations,” said Bonavolonta.
“Two of the main elements are that we cannot track or monitor domestic groups or police ideology,” said Bonavolonta. “There have to be certain elements that are met for us to even open up an active investigation and that is the existence of a potential federal crime, the threat or use of force or violence, in conjunction with some sort of social or political agenda.”
As it related to the alleged assault of Murrel, Boston Police Superintendent in Chief Greg Long said no officers witnessed the incident. Long said there are a lot of detectives assigned to that case who are looking at videos.
“If we are able to make identifications.. there will be charges brought,” said Long.
“I have learned a tremendous amount in just the last couple of days about the clear distinction between how our law treats terrorist groups outside this country and domestic terrorist groups,” said Mayor Wu. “That distinction relies very heavily on the first amendment as a shield in many cases, and so there has not been ongoing surveillance of groups with a certain ideology before they reach the threshold of a threat or intent to incite or commit violence.”
Rollins later added that police and prosecutors need people to speak up if they see something that raises an alarm.
“When we look at these type of groups that have a racially motivated violent extremism bent to them – we need to empower people, mostly in the white community – to say when you see somebody that you love that is starting to become radicalized; that is talking about – using language that makes you uncomfortable – you should be able to go to local law enforcement and say I am worried about my brother or my sister or my uncle or my loved one,” said Rollins.
But, Rollins said today’s briefing was not about vilifying police.
“This is making sure that people in our communities know that hate has no place in Boston or Massachusetts,” she said.
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