Cambridge, MA — News of a Harvard student getting caught up in a police beating garnered headlines last week as it shows how police violence crosses all socioeconomic barriers and can even affect the affluent. This week, the dramatic video footage of the student, identified as Selorm Ohene, was released showing the arrest in its graphic detail.
The Cambridge Police Department is now the subject of public criticism as the video shows police pin down Ohene and repeatedly punch him over and over as he screams. The punches were so disturbing that onlookers—many of whom had out their phones and were filming—began screaming at the officers to stop it.
The incident took place on Friday around 10 p.m. as police responded to calls of a naked man in the middle of the street who was “acting completely irrational.” This naked man was 21-year-old Ohene who was clearly in the midst of a mental health emergency after he’d allegedly ingested some sort of mind altering drug.
In a statement on Monday, the president of Harvard University, Drew Foust called the incident “profoundly disturbing.”
“A Harvard student was in obvious distress, and we need to understand how that came to be and whether we could have interceded earlier and more effectively,” Faust wrote. “We have been witness to the use of force against a member of our community, which, regardless of circumstances, is upsetting and compels the search for a deeper understanding.”
As the video shows, police have Ohene surrounded when one of them tackles the naked man sending him slamming into the pavement.
A member of our Harvard community was subjected to violence at the hands of Cambridge Police. We will post updates as more information becomes available #PoliceBrutalityAtHarvard
— Harvard BLSA (@HarvardBLSA) April 14, 2018
A letter from the Harvard Black Law Students Association described the incident in graphic detail:
He was surrounded by at least four Cambridge Police Department (CPD) officers who, without provocation, lunged at him, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. While on the ground, at least one officer repeatedly punched the student in his torso as he screamed for help. The officers held him to the ground until paramedics arrived, placed him on a stretcher, and put him in the ambulance. A pool of blood remained on the pavement as the ambulance departed. Shortly thereafter, firefighters came and cleaned up the blood with bleach and water.
The pool of blood was documented by NBC 10 Boston in a disturbing image.
In spite of the backlash, police are defending the use of force by the group of four officers which was made up of three officers from the Cambridge Police Department and one from Transit Police.
A later statement from Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard, Jr., provided to Cambridge City Councilors and media included a lengthy defense of the use of punches:
“As we previously noted, use of force was required in order to effectuate the male’s arrest. The primary concern I’ve addressed this morning focuses on punches (five in total) issued by one of the involved officers after the suspect was on the ground. In a rapidly-evolving situation, as this was, the officers primary objective is to neutralize an incident to ensure the safety of the involved party(ies), officers and members of the public. Use of force was utilized to gain compliance from the involved party, who was displaying erratic behavior due to reports of his ingestion of drugs earlier in the evening. Once on the ground, officers were unable to gain compliance because the male contorted his body in a way that pinned his arms under his body and officers were unable to handcuff him. An ongoing struggle ensued. To prevent the altercation from extending and leading to further injuries, particularly since the location of the engagement was next to a busy street with oncoming traffic, the officers utilized their discretion and struck the individual in the mid-section to gain his compliance and place him in handcuffs.”
Ohene has since been charged with disorderly conduct, indecent exposure, resisting arrest and assault for the April 13th incident. Below is the video. Warning, its content may be disturbing to some viewers.