When I arrived in Bonn on Thursday, July 12 to give a keynote at Bonn’s annual Summer School in Classical German Philosophy, I was shocked to learn that the prior day’s speaker, Yitzhak Melamed (Johns Hopkins) had first been the victim of an anti-semitic assault by a deranged German-Paltestinian (some news reports described the assailant as a drug addict) on the lovely green space adjacent to the University, but that he was then beaten by the Bonn police who mistook him for the culprit rather than the victim–so he was victimized twice! (Naturally, the police tried to rationalize their assault on Professor Melamed, but an independent investigation has been launched by the Minister of the Interior.) The University and town are in an uproar (the events are all over the print and televised media), and the Bonn Mayor has organized a rally for next Thursday in which all Bonn citizens are encouraged to wear a Kippa. But I’ll here let Professor Melamed recount the horrible events.
The Events at the Bonner Hofgarten this July 11th: A Letter to a German Friend,In the past two days I have been approached by various German news media requesting my description of the events that took place at the Bonner Hofgarten on July 11th. I cannot answer all of these requests as I have work to do and family to look after. Instead, let me provide a brief and precise description of the course of events on that day. Let me also note that I am deeply troubled by the description of the events in the Bonn Police statement of July 12. The report is replete with flat and groundless lies aiming at covering both the brutality and inefficiency of the Bonn police on July 11th (I will explain these grave charges shortly).I had been invited to give a Keynote Lecture at Bonn University’s prestigious summer school in classical German philosophy. Regrettably, I could come for only two and half days due to family commitments, and I was scheduled to give my talk on Wed. June 11 at 18:00. I had spent the morning of that day working on my research, and at 12:30 I met Dr. Lina Steiner (Bonn University), my former colleague and a close friend of both my spouse and I. Lina showed me the nice schloss and then she wished to show me the town (though I visit German universities quite frequently, I had never been to Bonn before). It was sometime after 14:00 that we crossed the street and entered the Bonner Hofgartens. Shortly thereafter, a stocky man about 1.60 meters tall approached us and asked me “Bist Du Jude?” and then, added that he is Palestinian. I started saying that I have sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians and deeply regret the current depressing state of Islamic-Jewish relations, when the person (realizing that I am a foreigner) started shouting in English: “I fuck Jews. I fuck Jews.” Realizing where this conversation is going Dr. Steiner and I passed to the other side and moved away from the person who then followed us with his persistent curses. Then, he tried to throw away my yarlmulka (Kippa) shouting in German that in Germany I am not allowed to wear a yarmulka. I took my yalmulka from the ground and put it back on my head. The guy got angrier: “No. You are not allowed to have the yarmulka here” (that’s my recollection of his shouts in German). He then shouted several times: “Kein Juden in Deutschland”, and threw my yalmulka for the second time. I picked it up and put it on my head. “You don’t listen to me” he shouted, and threw my yarmulka for the third time. I picked it up and put it on my head. He pushed me, and then we moved aside.As this was happening, Lina asked bypassers to call the police, and a few of them made the phone call (there were quite a few people around). The attacker, at that point, went to the nearby lawn and started walking in circles. After about five minutes he came back to us. He pushed me and then I tried to kick him in the groin so that he would leave us. I didn’t hit, but he was deterred and went again to the green, walking in circles. I asked Lina where the police is. Then the attacker came for the third time. He pushed again, cursed, and I tried (and failed) to kick his groin. Then, we heard the siren of the police. It was at least 20 minutes after we asked to call the police (there were many passers-by around who could attest). The attacker moved slowly, then once the police car was about to park he started running away.The police moved slowly and the attacker was about to get out of my eyesight. He was about 400 meters ahead of me, and after some hesitation I started running after him, so that I could still point the police in his direction (the area was populated, and the attacker took off his shirt, so it was clear he was about to disappear from eyesight). After three hundred meters I saw a pair of policemen running from the opposite direction, passing the attacker, and running… toward me. I didn’t have much time to wonder, as almost immediately four or five policemen with heavy guard jumped over me (two from the front, and two or three from the back). They pushed my head into the ground, and then while I was totally incapacitated and barely able to breath (not to mention move a finger), they started punching my face. After a few dozen punches, I started shouting in English that I was the wrong person. They put handcuffs on my hands, behind my back, and after a few dozen additional punches to my face while I am shouting that I’m the wrong person, they finally moved from my back. I was now able to breath. I asked them to open my bag and reach for my identifying documents. My glasses were broken. My watch torn, and then after another 5 or 10 minutes they realized they made an error. One of the policemen came, took off my handcuffs, and told me that they captured person who attacked us. Then the same policemen shouted at me in a didactic tone (in English): “Don’t get in trouble with the German Police!.” This was more than enough. I told the policeman sardonically, “I am no longer afraid of the German police. The German police murdered my grandfather. They murdered my grandmother. They murdered my uncle, and they murdered my aunt. All in one day in September 1942. So, alas, I am not afraid of them anymore.” The policeman was baffled. I asked him for his name, and he refused to answer. I asked again, and again got no answer. Later, I was able to write down the identifying number on his police vest which I still have with me.
The policemen asked me and Dr. Steiner to accompany them to the police station in order to give testimony. As we entered the station I saw that my face was bleeding. I told Dr. Steiner that I probably look quite funny. In the police station, the policemen asked both me and Dr. Steiner to give a testimony. I asked to file a complaint against the policemen who have beaten me, and then, for the next hour and a half, the policemen were trying to convince me not to file the complaint. They apologized and said this was a mistake, and I answered that this may indeed have been a mistake, but even if it were so, dozens of punches to my face – while I was incapacitated – were nothing short of pure brutality. Then, one of the policemen tried convincing me that I “touched his hand” and that they jumped on me only in a reaction to that. I told him this is a flat lie. He told me that it was perhaps an instinct of mine of which I was not aware, and I answered that this too is a cheap and flat lie, as the four or five policemen who jumped on me were 2 meters away from me before they jumped on me, and there was no bodily contact between me and any of the policemen before they attacked me. This surreal conversation in which they continued to try to convince me that by virtue of some reflex or instinct I touched the hand of one of the policemen and that this was the justification for the beating, ran for quite a long time. Then, they began insinuating that if I press charges against them, they will accuse me of resisting arrest. I told them that I am asking to file a complaint. As my face was bleeding throughout the conversation, no one offered me first aid or anything of the kind (they told me that I can go to the hospital). Eventually, an order came from the higher authorities that since the case is considered a hate-crime, I should provide testimony before the unit of “political crimes”. We went then to the other police station. There the interrogator was much more courteous. As he approached me, he asked: “this is what this bandit did to you?” and I answered: “No sir. I have to tell you the truth. This is what the German police did to me.” He covered his face with his hand and said: “Oh no.” He then went to speak with his supervisors, returned, took my testimony. He asked me if I wish to file a complaint against the police. I told him that I have nothing personal against any of the policemen, and that I have no plans for any future interaction with the Bonn police. Nevertheless, I thought it is in his interest as a German citizen to eradicate police brutality, especially when it is directed again foreigners and minorities. Though I could not read the text as my glasses were lost, the interrogator filled the complaint in my name, and I signed it. He then gave me a ride to the hotel. I quickly went up, washed the blood from my face and body, and then went to give my lecture (though 45 minutes late).I could not sleep that night as my body was wounded and I could not find any position which was not painful. I was supposed to take the 8:15 am train to Frankfurt airport and then finally fly home. I woke up at 6:30 AM by a phone call from the Bonn police, telling me that the president of the police would like to meet me, and asking whether she could come to the hotel at 7:15. I agreed. The president came to apologize. I told her human errors can happen, but that the savage punching by the police was not an error, as I was completely incapacitated and barely able to breath at the time. She told me the policemen deserve a due process to which I immediately agreed. We departed as friends, or so it seemed to me at the time, for as I was flying home I started receiving messages from friends about the police report on the incident (issued on the morning of the 12th), and the first reports in the German media which appeared just as a “cut-and-paste” adaptations from the police report. Both the police reports and its metastatic news items explained that the president of the police apologized (which I interpreted as a clear and insincere political move), that I had resisted arrest, and that, consequently, the police “had” to punch me, as a courtesy of their style of education (see, for example, the report in Deutsche Welle). Well, you can now judge for yourselves. Try (if you can) resisting arrest either when you are not in any bodily contact with the police, or, alternatively, when 5 policemen are on your back and you are barely able to breath (we, philosophers, take ourselves as experts in thought-experiments. Yet, the Bonn police seems to be capable of even squaring the circle). At the end of the day, my friend, it is your society and your police. As I said, I have no plans for any further encounters with the Bonn police. Police brutality is one of the sickest aspects of current American society. It is racist and it is vile. You may think things are different in Germany. I very much doubt it. The only reason why the president of the Bonn police came to “apologize” to me is because I am a professor at Johns Hopkins University. If I were any of the underdogs of German society, no one would care about it (and obviously no one would believe the complainant).As the sunset goes down on this Friday in Baltimore, I would only like to wish you Shabbat Shalom my friend, and please, don’t forget to listen to the modern “foreigner, orphan and widow [גר, יתום ואלמנה]”, even when they complain about being abused by the authorities. For they may well be right.Yours,Yitzhak Yohanan MelamedBaltimore, July 13th, 2018