With a slashing motion across his neck tonight, a Boston Police sergeant ordered Whole Foods to shut down its first Jamaica Plain community meeting early, after officers arrested two people for unfurling an anti-Whole Foods banner in the back.
As people filed out of the Curley School, police officers from across the city began arriving - the sergeant had activated the department's Emergency Deployment Team system, used to swarm a trouble spot with police. At one point, at least a dozen Boston Police officers (one in plain clothes) stood at the top of the school's steps guarding it against potential mayhem.
No violence actually broke out, although two women on either side of the issue had to be separated by friends when they cursed and then lunged at each other as they were leaving the auditorium.
As the meeting began around 7 p.m., the roughly 200 residents seemed evenly split between people holding up yellow signs in favor of the impending Whole Foods in Hyde Square and people holding blue signs - and many wearing blue T-shirts - in opposition.
A line of Whole Foods executives and managers sat on tall chairs at the front of the auditorium, explaining how they do business and how they hope to open in late fall.
The mostly white, mostly young anti-Fooders quickly began trying to shout down both Whole Foods managers and other residents as they screamed their opposition to what they said was the ultimate gentrifying force that would push the neighborhood's minority residents out.
The mostly white, mostly middle-aged pro-Whole Foods contingent pleaded for civility - but occasionally shouted out demands that the protesters shut up. For the most part, however, they limited their noise making to applauding when somebody made a point with which they agreed.
The yelling reached a fever pitch after Whole Foods finished explaining its wonderfulness and opened the floor to questions. Things quieted down when a Whole Foods executive said if the yelling didn't stop, she'd cut the meeting off there and take any questions by e-mail. Occasional yelling continued, however, as people at the mikes made one point or another. And then Frankel and Murray went up to the auditorium balcony and unfurled a banner:
Both were arrested and led out of the school in handcuffs, to be booked at District E-13 on charges of disturbing a public assembly and trespassing (the third person arrested was taken away as the police were clearing the auditorium).
Meanwhile, a Whole Foods executive explained why the company had waited several months to actually meet with the community:
Whole Foods had reserved the auditorium until 9 p.m. and had planned to start winding things down at 8:30 p.m. to get people out by then, but the sergeant cut things short at 8:15.
As people poured out, some pro-market residents went down the line of Whole Foods employees shaking their hands.
Outside, City Councilor Matt O'Malley, who supports the Whole Foods, said he was disappointed the meeting was cut short and hoped Whole Foods would hold another - and that residents could come to some meeting of the minds. "We all love Jamaica Plain and we all want to be proud of Jamaica Plain," he said.
Several other residents in favor of the market expressed disgust with both the shouting blue shirts and police - they said as much as they disagreed with the protesters' tactics, they were disturbed by the strong-arm nature of the police reaction to a meeting they said had calmed down since its rocky beginning and showed no signs of collapsing into chaos.
At District E-13, a couple dozen protesters gathered to support the three arrested people. At one point, a different police sergeant came out and laid down some rules, including: If they just stood there, as they were doing, they could be arrested, so they had to stay in motion. The protesters quickly began marching in a circle. One protester dashed off to get pizza. They pooled their money to pay the $40 bail processing fee for each of the three.
Around 9:45, the three emerged, one by one, to applause.