The arrest of a black undergraduate student at Harvard University on Friday, April 13 has sparked controversy surrounding claims of police brutality.
That night, officers responded to multiple calls about a naked male student on Massachusetts Avenue, according to a tweet made by the Cambridge Police Department.
They added that over the course of the arrest, four law enforcement officers used physical force, after the male student aggressively charged towards them. The officers then forced him to the ground and put him in handcuffs. The student was arrested that same evening, with charges of indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, assault, and resisting arrest.
According to the official police report, one of the officers punched the student five times in his stomach.
In an emailed statement sent to the Harvard Crimson, CPD representative Jeremy Warnick drew from the CPD’s full police report to argue that physical force was necessary to get compliance from the student.
“Once on the ground, the individual party had pinned his arms under his body making it difficult for officers to handcuff him,” Warnick said. “Physical force was used to unpin his arms and gain compliance in order to handcuff the party.”
Protesting the claims made by the police department, the Harvard Black Law Students Association tweeted that the arrest of the Black male student was a display of police brutality. They also released a public statement saying that the Cambridge Police Department’s portrayal of the arrest was inaccurate.
“On the evening of April 13th, a number of our current Harvard Black Law Students Association (HBLSA) members and admitted students witnessed a brutal instance of police violence at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Waterhouse Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts,” the statement said.
That letter, which was addressed to the Harvard University and Cambridge communities, was signed by over 90 student organizations at Harvard and other undergraduate and graduate schools in the U.S., including the Wharton African American MBA Association.
The statement added that the entire response to the situation was mishandled. Rather than responding with police involvement, they argued that Harvard University Health services should have been called in to assess the situation and send staff members on the student’s behalf.
Some members of HBLSA said that when witnessing the police encounter, they saw that the student was surrounded by “at least four Cambridge Police Department officers who, without provocation, lunged at him, tackled him and pinned him to the ground.” Those same witnesses also said that one of the officers punched the student multiple times even while he was already on the ground.
The HBLSA statement made a direct demand to the CPD, describing the police conduct as “unacceptable” and calling for the officers to be “fully investigated.”’