According to the police report detailing Jubran’s arrest, Alex Koifman, a Waltham resident, approached Sergeant Michael McCarthy at 1:30 p.m. He told the officer that he’d been walking on Beacon Street past chanting demonstrators. One of them turned and screamed at Koifman, who yelled back, "Stop shouting in my ear." When he turned away, he felt what he described as "a kick" in the buttocks. Koifman told police that he spun around and "made eye contact" with Jubran. According to the report, "Jubran was the only protester Koifman made note of not facing the street, and he is sure this is the person who kicked him." His wife and son also claimed they had witnessed the kick.
Within minutes, approximately six cops descended upon Jubran as he was leading chants. He was asked to step aside. "I thought the officers were going to tell me to move people off the street or something," Jubran says. Instead, McCarthy asked if Jubran had been involved in a confrontation. "Jubran said he was peacefully protesting the entire afternoon, and had not argued or fought with anyone," McCarthy wrote in the arrest report. There were no police witnesses to the alleged attack. Still, police escorted Jubran to a nearby paddy wagon, where he was handcuffed. It would be 24 hours before Jubran discovered that he’d been charged with felony assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (a shod foot) — an accusation that he vehemently denies.
The arrest puzzled demonstrators. Many of them wanted answers from officers on the scene: what had happened to Jubran? What had he done wrong? Where had he been taken? Stevan Kirschbaum, of the International Action Center (IAC), asked such questions of several officers, he says. Yet their response surprised him. "I was told that it was none of my business," he says, "and that I had better leave or I’d be arrested." He claims police moved in on a handful of IAC activists who were displaying banners. "The police got belligerent," he recalls. Some officers demanded that the activists remove their signs. Others simply tore down the signs themselves. "The police came in and dispersed a legal and peaceful assembly for no reason at all," he says.
Other demonstrators, too, maintain that Brookline police tried to snuff out the protest after Jubran’s arrest. Federman speaks for virtually all 10 of the protesters interviewed by the Phoenix when he describes the police’s "significant effort to break up the demonstration." Although he stresses that he did not see the confiscation of any banners, he says he heard many cops telling protesters to go home. Adds Federman, "It was a clear push to shut [the activists] down."
Salna, of the Al-Awda coalition, concurs: "The police were saying things like ‘Leave now’ and ‘Move along.’ After I started asking questions, I was told to leave."
The situation has convinced Jubran and his supporters that the Brookline police seized a "bogus" and "bullshit" complaint as an excuse to stifle an unpopular and potentially volatile demonstration. Says Jubran: "Whether intentional or not, the rights of Palestinian activists were violated that day."
POLICE CHIEF O’Leary takes a different view. " As long as the demonstrators were peacefully protesting, that’s fine, " he explains. " But the minute someone approached us with a complaint, we had to respond. " And he contends that when his men did respond, they did not shut down the demonstration. Officers, he insists, did not order anyone except Jubran to leave the area; nor did they confiscate any banners. When O’Leary left the scene 30 minutes after the arrest, he says, " the demonstration was still going on. "
When asked if the protest had diminished in size, he replies, " People were still there. Signs were still there. I take exception to [demonstrators’] allegations. We did not suppress their free-speech rights. "
Maybe so. But Jubran’s account of what happened June 10 — which 17 other demonstrators plan to corroborate in court — has raised eyebrows at the ACLU and the ADC, which have joined forces to investigate. On July 3, ACLU Massachusetts legal director John Reinstein and ADC legal adviser Carol Khawly wrote to Brookline officials requesting " any planning documents, roll call memoranda, lists of officers assigned, police log for June 10, tape recording of radio messages ... telephone calls to Brookline Police, and videotapes made by the police. " In essence, the letter asks for anything that could shed light on what happened.
" We’re trying to find out what went on, " says John Roberts, who heads the ACLU chapter in Boston. " At this point, " he adds, " we don’t know all the facts. " The ADC’s Khawly concurs. " We believe the police may have violated the Palestinians’ free-speech rights, but we need to review the facts, " she says.
Roberts declines to specify how the Brookline police may have overstepped their bounds. But Khawly, who works at the ADC’s Washington, DC, office, explains that she’s concerned primarily with how demonstrators say they were treated after Jubran’s arrest. One alleged confrontation — a minor scuffle with no injuries — isn’t necessarily reason enough for police to dismantle a demonstration. Even if Jubran did kick Koifman — which remains unclear — it was not, Khawly says, as if a brawl had broken out: " This incident marred an otherwise peaceful demonstration. "
In other words, nothing seems to have happened that would explain why officers would demand that the Palestinian demonstrators leave, or order banners taken down. Observes Khawly, " We’re concerned there was a deliberate attempt on the part of the Brookline police to force the group to disperse. " If so, " then the police willfully interrupted a legal protest. "
Khawly also questions why the department placed more restrictions on the pro-Palestinian supporters than on those involved in the Israeli festival — refusing to let them protest on a public sidewalk, for example, and denying them the use of bullhorns. On the surface, she adds, " these tactics don’t appear to be legal, because they had a chilling effect on the Palestinians’ right to protest. "
Organizers of the annual Israeli festival — local Jewish philanthropies and the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston — defend the police. Alan Ronkin, the associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, which helped sponsor the event, says he has no reason to think the officers acted inappropriately. Ronkin did not witness the Palestinian demonstration, he admits. But he explains that he’d expect the police to uphold public safety if a confrontation occurred. He’d expect the same if someone attending the Israeli festival had acted out of order. " I don’t believe the Brookline police suppressed anyone’s free-speech rights, " Ronkin adds. " The record of the department is just the opposite. They facilitate free speech in Brookline. "
Brookline town leaders agree. Town administrator Richard Kelliher echoes many officials when he notes that the Brookline police have " a long history " of preserving order while allowing people to voice controversial opinions. The town, after all, saw one volatile demonstration after another outside the Beacon Street abortion clinics throughout the late 1980s. " The Brookline police are experienced in dealing with free expression, " Kelliher says. " They have handled things appropriately in the past. We have every expectation that things were handled appropriately in this situation. "
O’Leary says: " We’re not the type of police agency that hasn’t faced this stuff before.... We do not step on free-speech rights. "
Whether the Brookline police crossed a legal line remains to be determined. Some issues may be settled on August 9, when a motion to reduce Jubran’s criminal charge will be heard in Brookline District Court. Cambridge attorney Daniel Beck, who is representing Jubran, filed the motion to dismiss the charge of felony assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (ABDW) because " it is completely bogus. " According to the department’s own report, he says, Jubran was arrested for allegedly kicking someone in the behind. It was not a prolonged attack; it was not an aggravated chop; it did not even result in injury. " Taking the facts as the report claims, " Beck says, " there isn’t enough evidence to support an ABDW charge. " If anything, he adds, Jubran should face a misdemeanor assault-and-battery charge. (If so, it would mean the police had no authority to arrest Jubran, because police must witness a misdemeanor in order to make an arrest.) If the charge against Jubran does get reduced, it will suggest that there’s no evidence that Jubran kicked Koifman hard enough to merit arrest.
And if that happens, activists will surely take it as further evidence that the Brookline police overreacted to a minor incident and used it as a pretext to suppress free speech. As Brookline resident Federman puts it, " There will always be this lingering question: why did this demonstration end this way? "
Kristen Lombardi can be reached at klombardi[a]phx.com