BOISE — Roughly 1,000 people attended two separate protests Tuesday night on the steps of Boise City Hall, with one group calling for the defunding of police and the amplification of social services, and another, larger group shouting support for law enforcement.
While the Boise Police Department confirmed in a tweet Tuesday evening officers made no arrests, it noted “interactions between groups were spirited with several fights broken up by on-scene officers.”
The two protests — which began at about 5 p.m. and lasted until about 7:30 p.m. — were tense, with protesters often engaging in shouted, sometimes profane arguments. A Black Lives Matter Boise protest was scheduled for the steps of the city hall, while a second protest was organized by the group Idaho Liberty Dogs and meant as a counter protest and to show support for law enforcement. Attendees of that protest carried American flags and thin blue line flags.
The Black Lives Matter protest ended early — there were people scheduled to speak who did not get to, organizers said, after what appeared to be a brief scuffle on the steps of city hall. Boise police officers had been forming a line between the two groups of protesters as the event grew more heated, and as the physical altercation played out, officers moved to that area of the protest and created space between people by standing between them. Officers wore plastic face masks, but did not appear to be in riot gear. They did not appear to interrupt the protests in any way.
The event had been a heated one from the beginning, however. Attendees at the Black Lives Matter event were outnumbered by those who appeared to be counter protesting, and were hemmed in against the doors of city hall. When organizers asked for silence in remembrance of George Floyd — a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost 9 minutes in May — counter protesters did not remain silent, and eventually ended up chanting “USA.”
“We are no longer negotiating, we are no longer debating, we are demanding change,” Tai Simpson, one of the speakers of the BLM event, told the crowd.
Those who spoke at the event also criticized the city’s decision to hire Ryan Lee — formerly of the Portland Police Bureau — as the new police chief. Lee’s tactics for handling protests in 2017 and 2018 between members of the far-left and far-right came under scrutiny after some said police in the city had become too friendly with white supremacists.
Boise police tweeted it had shut down Capitol Boulevard in front of City Hall as a result of the protests. The street was open not long after the Black Lives Matter protest ended.
One protest-goer — wearing a face mask featuring the Confederate flag and carrying an American flag — said he attended the event to support police. He declined to give his name, but he said he felt police as a whole were being blamed for the sins of a few “bad apples.”
Asked about protesters refusing to be silent in remembrance of Floyd, he said he personally had nothing against George Floyd, but he felt Boiseans were against the looting and violence that occurred during and after some protests in other cities. He saw the counter protest as Boiseans saying they did not want that in their city.
A message to Idaho Liberty Dogs on Facebook seeking comment was not returned Tuesday before the protests.
After the apparent brief physical altercation organizers said they wanted to end the event early. People took their time in leaving the steps of city hall, some engaging in angry, profane shouting matches as police officers stood silently between them.