A New England town that answered the call in the Revolutionary War is up in arms again.
This time, townspeople are in revolt because Brookline’s own police officers used Mace and handcuffs to break up a century-old tradition of ringing in Independence Day with a midnight celebration of song, church bells and firecrackers.
Police said they encountered a rowdy crowd of drunks. They arrested seven people on misdemeanor charges, including the editor of the local newspaper.
Jim Austin, one of the first arrested, said an officer told him “I had to stop ringing the bell or else I’m going to be arrested. I said, ‘Well, you’ll have to arrest me because it’s my right on Independence Day to ring the bell.”’
Selectmen in this town of 2,500 scheduled a special meeting Monday night that was attended by more than 150 people.
Supporters of the people who were arrested had demanded that the charges be dropped and that the police officer who called in reinforcements resign.
But Selectman Russell Heinselman said the board would hear no testimony regarding the fracas. Instead, he said he was asking the state attorney general’s office to conduct an immediate investigation.
Heinselman’s announcement was booed.
Clarence Farwell, who was Maced and arrested, said residents feared an outside investigation would take too long. Those arrested have an Aug. 12 court date.
“This is a Brookline problem. I find it awfully hard to understand why it can’t be solved in Brookline,” Farwell said.
“What we were celebrating was the right to do what they were doing, the right to celebrate, the right to assemble. It is kind of ironic and sad,” said Marcia Farwell, the arrested editor and publisher of The Brookliner.
Danny Bent, 38, said at least 15 police officers showed up at the white clapboard Church of Christ on the tree-lined town square.
“They went wild. They took over. There was police brutality, completely,” said Bent, who was not arrested.
Brookline, a rural community on the Massachusetts state line, was settled in 1741. By 1775 it had a population of just 134, but it sent 42 of its men to crucial Revolutionary battles including Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill, giving it what residents boast is “a record few New Hampshire towns can equal.”
The annual celebration traditionally begins around midnight with the ringing of the bell at the Church of Christ, said resident Barbara Austin, Jim Austin’s mother. Thursday night, the bell-ringers told authorities ahead of time that they planned to ring for independence until 6 a.m.
But other residents would have none of that. Police said they received numerous noise complaints and tried to send the revelers home.
Officer Deborah Clark found up to 200 people around the church, many drunk, most hoping to ring the bell, and few willing to leave, police said. When the crowd became abusive, she called for backup from surrounding communities, Officer Todd Palmer said.
Brookline Police Chief Tom Goulden said seven people were arrested on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to assaulting a police officer.