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Video Of Black Harvard Student Getting Punched By Cambridge Police Stirs Outrage

Harvard President Drew Faust called the police behavior “profoundly disturbing” and “upsetting."

By Reed Richardson

The police department in Cambridge, Massachusetts is catching heat over a video filmed Friday that captured officers punching a black Harvard student who had walked into a busy street and taken off his clothes.

Harvard University President Drew Faust called the police behavior “profoundly disturbing” and “upsetting" in an email to the university community Monday, according to the Boston Globe. The Harvard Black Law Student Association told the local Cambridge Day newspaper that the arrest was “a brutal instance of police violence.”

The student, Selorm Ohene, had been the subject of numerous 911 calls and was suspected of being under the influence of drugs, police said. A video from a bystander showed three Cambridge police officers and one transit police officer approaching Ohene on the street’s traffic island and attempting to talk to him. The three policemen converge on Ohene and throw him to the ground. As he squirmed underneath them, an officer hit him in the face five times, according to the Cambridge police incident report

According to the police report, an acquaintance told officers at the scene that Ohene had taken a hallucinogenic narcotic. After attempting to calm Ohene down, the officers then made a “tactical decision” to physically tackle him “after he was observed clinching both of his fists and started taking steps towards officers.” Once he was restrained, handcuffed, and arrested, Ohene was transported to a nearby hospital for evaluation. During the ride in the ambulance, he spit blood on an EMT, according to police. 

Ohene is being charged with indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, assault, resisting arrest, and assault and battery on ambulance personnel. But the charges are being reconsidered in light of the controversy over the arrest.

"We recognize there are individuals ... who are better served by means other than the criminal justice system," Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville Bard said, according to WBUR. "So the individual is currently being evaluated to see if they fit that set of circumstances."

Even so, Bard has defended his officers' actions. 

Since police used force to subdue Ohene, department policy mandates that Cambridge police leadership and its professional standards unit conduct an internal review of the incident.

[Photo: Cambridge Police Department]

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