Police arrest 3, abruptly end Whole Foods’ first meeting with Jamaica Plain residents
(Matt Rocheleau for Boston.com)
This banner, hung from an area police said was off-limits to audience members, led to the arrest of the two people who unveiled it during the meeting. A similar banner led to the arrest of another resident who tried to display his banner in the middle of the main seating area.
By Matt Rocheleau, Town Correspondent
The heated debate over Whole Foods’ plans to move in to Jamaica Plain reached an unprecedented peak Thursday night when three people were arrested at a community meeting, prompting police to end the forum nearly a half-hour earlier than planned.
It was the first time Whole Foods officials met face-to-face with the neighborhood that has been divided over the issue — despite some more recent signs of unity — since plans for a store in Hyde Square were first announced nearly five months ago.
The crowd of more than 300 listened to company executives calmly at the start before repeated outbursts began. Neighbors shouted down one another and Whole Foods officials alike, at times with name-calling and personal attacks.
Opponents to the national grocer’s arrival donned light blue T-shirts reading “I support an affordable and diverse JP” and waved blue-colored flyers passed out by leaders of the Whose Foods grassroots group beforehand. Supporters of the Whole Foods store countered with yellow-colored flyers.
Several police officers on detail were active from the meeting’s start, ushering all attendees standing in the aisles to find a seat in packed the auditorium at the Curley K-8 School, a few blocks from where Whole Foods plans to open a store in late fall, replacing the former Hi-Lo Foods.
The Latino-specialty grocer closed after four decades when its owners, Newton-based Knapp Foods, leased the building to Whole Foods.
After hanging an anti-Whole Foods banner that said: “Displacement: What is Whole Foods going to do about it?” from a balcony seating area, two attendees and neighborhood residents, Chloe Frankel and Andrew Murray, were arrested.
The banner unveiling led to an eruption of chants against the supermarket company’s intentions and dozens of others then headed for the exits in apparent disgust. On their way out, some stopped to shake the hands of Whole Foods representatives who sat facing the crowd in a row of chairs set up at the front of the auditorium.
Police said the balcony area had been cordoned off and people were advised specifically not to venture up there. Boston police spokesman Officer Eddy Chrispin said that when police then asked the duo to leave the building, they refused to cooperate and were arrested on charges of disrupting a public assembly and trespassing.
Later, another activist attempted to hold up a second banner in the middle of the auditorium’s main seating area. The sign was not fully unveiled, but activists later said it read “One meeting is not enough.” After a brief tug-of-war between several audience members and police officers, who attempted to confiscate the banner, Peter Blailock of Jamaica Plain was arrested on a charge of disrupting a public assembly.
Several moments later, police shut down the meeting as around one dozen officers stood outside the school’s front entrance to help disperse the crowd. Several cruisers lined Centre Street with their lights flashing.