Three protesters were arrested at Whole Food’s first face-to-face conversation with Jamaica Plain residents June 2. The meeting was abruptly ended by police after an action-packed hour, filled with protest chants, impassioned comments and a banner-drop.
The meeting at the Curley School at 493 Centre St. was attended by over 200 people, many of them clad in light blue T-shirts that read, “I support an affordable and diverse JP.”
One of the people arrested, Andrew Murray, is an active member of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s Ad Hoc Whole Foods Committee. That committee has been working for the past two months to compile a report on the potential impacts of Whole Foods on the Hyde Square community.
Those T-shirts, along with flyers expressing opposition to Whole Foods, were distributed by the anti-Whole Foods group the Whose Foods? Coalition outside the school prior to the meeting.
The meeting was scheduled to run for an hour-and-a-half, but was shut down by police a little over an hour in.
Murray and Chloe Frankel were arrested early in the meeting after unfurling a banner from the balcony of the Curley School auditorium that read, “Displacement, what is Whole Foods going to do about it?”
Peter Blailock was arrested after police stopped another group of activists from unfurling another banner in an aisle of the auditorium.
According to a police report, that banner read, “One meeting is not sufficient/Una reunion no suficiente.”
In the police report, District E-13 Sgt. Henry Staines said he shut down the meeting after arresting Blailock and returning to the auditorium and observing a “large contingent of persons all clad in blue T-shirts acting in unison to create a very dangerous environment.”
While the failed banner unfurling and arrest caused some commotion among meeting attendees, the Gazette did not observe a marked change in the tenor of the already rowdy meeting at that point. The Gazette also did not observe the “unified action” that caused Staines to shut down the meeting.
“There were moments that were more calm and productive, but there was some shouting going back and forth that happened to coincide with the banner,” City Councilor Matt O’Malley said in a phone interview this week. “I think that the officers needed to keep people safe.”
Helen Matthews of Whose Foods? said she thought “the energy was kind of calming down somewhat,” when police ended the meeting. “I think the most disruptive group was the police,” she said.
“I think there was tension in the room that was continuing to grow and boil up at the Whole Foods representatives,” Rick Stockwood of the pro-Whole Foods group JP For All told the Gazette. “The police did what they had to do.”
About 40 anti-Whole Foods activists went to the E-13 Police Station after the meeting and picketed. Murray, Frankel and Blailock were released at around 9:30 p.m., having been summonsed to West Roxbury District Court on charges of disturbing a public assembly.
“I think it was a good meeting overall. Opposition was expressed to Whole Foods coming to JP,” Blailock told the Gazette following his release.
The police report from the incident includes the statement “It should be noted that all suspects from this event are not from the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, but all claim to live in the area currently.”
Speaking to the Gazette last week, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino suggested that anti-Whole Foods activists might be from outside of the neighborhood.
All of those arrested have JP home addresses. Blailock told the Gazette he recently moved here from Maine.
The second banner unfurling was oddly timed, coming as Martha Rodriguez, an activist with the Whose Foods? Coalition, was asking Whole Foods officials if they had a plan to deal with displacement. Anti-Whole Foods activists fear that the stores move to the neighborhood will cause a rise in property values and displace low-income residents.
Whole Foods Regional Vice President of Operations Jim Hughes started to answer that question, beginning by saying it is “complicated.” But police immediately ended the meeting, and Hughes said only that Whole Foods would meet with the community again.
BPD spokesperson Eddy Chrispin told the Gazette in an email that Whole Foods had hired the police detail—three officers and a police sergeant. More officers were called to the scene “when officers on scene determined that additional officers were needed to maintain the safety of attendees,” Chrispin said.
He did not know how many officers responded at that point, he said.
According to the police report, a citywide emergency deployment team was called to the scene, meaning that officers on patrol all over Boston were called to the Curley School as the meeting broke up.
Whole Foods spokesperson Heather McCready told the Gazette that Whole Foods regularly hires police details when it hosts public meetings. The company was not involved in the decision to call additional police to the scene, she said.
The Whole Foods meeting was the Gazette observed a prominent police detail at a community meeting at the Curley School. Prior to the start of the meeting, the Gazette was informed by one of the officers that all meeting attendees were expected to stay in their seats.
The crowd was much rowdier, too, repeatedly interrupting speakers with anti-Whole Foods and anti-corporate comments. Some audience members who were pro-Whole Foods interrupted community members who were testifying, as well.
When the police moved to end the meeting, anti-Whole Foods activists took up chants including “Hey Hey, Ho Ho Whole Foods has got to go,” and “No Justice, no peace, no racist police.”
“We were having a healthy dialogue. It is unfortunate how it ended,” McCready told the Gazette this week. “We appreciate that people took the time to come out and talk to us.”
Matthews said she “did not appreciate” hecklers from either side of the controversial issue during the public comment period. She said she was disappointed that public comment got cut short. “There were a lot of people in line to speak. I wish I had been able to hear them,” she said.
Stockwood said he was disappointed that that a productive, informative conversation was ruined by “a small organized group of people intent on disrupting the meeting.”
The initial meeting schedule called for an hour-long presentation by company officials and a half-hour for comments. Whole Foods announced that those time allotments had been reversed at the beginning of the meeting. But only there were only about 30 minutes of public comments before police shut down the meeting.
In the first public comments made at the meeting, Claudio Martinez, head of the Hyde Square Task Force, told Whole Foods officials the Curley School was the wrong place to hold the meeting.
“The store is going to be located in Hyde/Jackson [Square], not in the neighborhood you are in today,” he said.
“I certainly hope we can facilitate a meeting where we don’t need as many police,” he said in a phone interview this week.