Harvard Responds To Police Assault Of Black Student

Cambridge police are under fire after video surfaced showing officers tackling an unarmed black Harvard student, then punching him multiple times as he was pinned to the ground.

On Friday night, Selorm Ohene, a black Harvard undergraduate, was arrested after a physical confrontation with Cambridge police officers. Video taken by a bystander and released by the police shows the man being confronted by officers on a concrete median in the middle of a busy street, before he is dropped to the ground. A police report later confirmed that the man was punched five times. As per department policy, the Professional Standards Unit operating within the Cambridge Police Department has launched an internal investigation into the officers' use of force against Ohene.

Mr. Ohene is still in a hospital, where he was taken Friday night, and he remains under police watch. He was charged with indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, assault, resisting arrest and assault and battery on ambulance personnel.

The Cambridge Police Commissioner later offered more detail of the arrest and addressed the use of force.

Ohene "was flailing, kicking, and the officers were doing everything within their power as they go up that force continuum to bring him into custody and compliance and control safely", Bard said. As he turns his back to one of them, the officer tackles him.

Bard said part of the reason an arraignment has not been scheduled for Ohene is because the department is evaluating his mental health. The incident, caught on video by witnesses, allegedly featured an officer repeatedly punching the individual, which prompted the department to conduct an internal investigation. They were also told by Ohene's friends that he had possibly taken LSD or another hallucinogenic drug, the report said.

Bard said officers had difficulty in getting one of Ohene's arms from underneath his body to be able to handcuff him. That context may be the recent cases of Saheed Vassell or Stephon Clark, whose deaths have helped reignite a conversation around police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ohene was eventually handcuffed, shackled and placed in an ambulance, where he spat blood and saliva at the emergency medical technicians, the report said. "It escalated while officers were attempting to speak with him", said Bard.

According to the Harvard Crimson, university president Drew Faust called the arrest "profoundly disturbing" but cautioned not all is known because the review is still pending.

The Cambridge Police Department tweeted about the incident on Saturday morning, but didn't note that any misconduct or violence had occurred while the arrest was being conducted.

A statement from the Criminal Justice Institute of Harvard Law School released Tuesday said that the Harvard student was still recovering from his injuries from the incident. "When confrontations can not be averted and include the use of physical force, we must be willing to review our actions to ensure that our police officers are providing the highest level of safety for all", he said in a statement Saturday. Policing in Cambridge is far ahead of many communities across the country, and yet we can always strive to do better. 'As Mayor, I will continue working with my colleagues to make sure that the horrific treatment of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement has no place in Cambridge'.

  • Jon Douglas