BALTIMORE — While visiting Bonn, Germany, to give a keynote lecture at Bonn University last week, Yitzhak Melamed, an Israeli-born professor of philosophy at Johns Hopkins University, says he was assaulted by a 20-year-old German-Palestinian man, and then by Bonn police officers after they mistook him for the aggressor.
The incident, which took place on July 11, was chronicled in detail by Melamed, 50, in a Facebook post from July 13 that he titled “The Events at the Bonner Hofgarten this July 11th: A Letter to a German Friend.”
“I came home, I went to see a doctor and then Friday I spoke with a few friends,” Melamed said. “And then I thought the best thing to do is just to write my own version of the experience.”
Melamed said the injuries he endured came not from the belligerent attacker, but by being tackled and then punched in the face dozens of times by police officers.
“The person who attacked me was an anti-Semite, he started cursing and he pushed me. But frankly, had the police not interfered, this would probably end up as an unpleasant incident that no one would be told,” he said.
The attacker allegedly approached Melamed and told him he was Palestinian before shouting at him repeatedly “I f*** Jews,” in English. The attacker then ripped Melamed’s kippah from his head, according to Melamed, and threw it on the ground, telling Melamed he wasn’t allowed to wear it in Germany. (According to a Google-translated Bonn police press release, the attacker “is known to the police in the area of violent crime and because of violations of the Narcotics Act.”)
The attacker pushed Melamed and left, only to return shortly thereafter to grab his kippah again. When the attacker ran away, Melamed wrote, he chased after him so he could identify him to the police. Next thing he knew, he was being tackled by police officers.
“After 300 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),” he wrote. “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.”
Melamed was taken to the police station to provide a statement — where, he said, police tried to dissuade him from filing a complaint.
“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,” he wrote. According to the translated press release, Melamed “failed to comply with several requests from the officials to stop.”
The next morning, the Bonn police president came to Melamed’s hotel room to apologize. Melamed did not find it sincere.
Bonn University, which had invited Melamed to Germany, issued a statement about his arrest that read, in part: “We are shocked by the extent of the injuries he suffered. Therefore, we appreciate and strongly support the initiative by the Minister of Interior Affairs to call for an independent investigation. The University of Bonn condemns any form of violence and discrimination.”
For Melamed, the problems the incident represents are twofold.
“There is one issue, which is the impossibility of Jews being able to wear a yarmulke in Germany. It is my impression that in some places it is the norm for Jews to wear a hat rather than a kippah,” he said.
“On the other hand, there is police violence. Being a Jew, I’ve never been subject to police violence, because in Baltimore that’s not how things happen here. I did my best to raise awareness, but I’m not going to fight on that. It’s for other people to do. It’s their country.”
Remarkably, even after the attack, injuries suffered and time spent at the police station, Melamed still delivered his address that evening — only 45 minutes late.
He returned to Baltimore before Shabbat on July 13. He closes his Facebook post by saying, “ … please, don’t forget to listen to the modern ‘foreigner, orphan and widow’ even when they complain about being abused by the authorities. For they may well be right.”
Connor Graham is a reporter for Baltimore Jewish Times.