UPDATE: Harvard student remains hospitalized after police beating; two Black professors take his case
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The 21-year-old Harvard University student beaten by Cambridge police on Friday evening, remains hospitalized today, according to one of his lawyers.
Selorm Ohene, a math major at the college, was unarmed and naked when Cambridge Police officers tackled him to the ground on Massachusetts Avenue, punching him multiple times in the torso, according to witnesses and police reports.
“On Friday night, several BLSA members and I were walking along Mass Ave. next to Harvard Law School when we witnessed a horrifying incident of police brutality,” writes Amber James, a second-year Harvard Law Student and student at Harvard Business School, speaking about the Black Law Students Association at Harvard in a Facebook post.
“One officer tackled him, one officer punched him, but four piled on top of him,” James explains. “His face was covered in blood when the police finally stood him up to put him in an ambulance. I took a photo of the pool of blood left where his head had been pressed into the concrete.”
After a seven-minute video of Ohene’s beating went viral, many students and community members questioned why the police’s use of force was necessary.
New video shows student calm before police tackle
A new bystander video (which has not been made public and was shown to theGrio with the understanding that it would not be distributed) is shot from a different angle and shows police questioning Ohene. They ask his name, whether he is a student, where he lives and rhetorically questioning, “What is going on? What did he take?”
One officer braces himself in a defensive stance behind the student while Ohene stands looking in the opposite direction. A sudden commotion stirs as Ohene moves, a bus passes by and officers can be seen tackling Ohene from both directions to the ground.
Ohene can be heard screaming “I need Jesus!” repeatedly while onlookers yell, “Don’t hurt him!”
“Numerous attempts were made by the officers to calm down the male, but they were met with opposition and hostility. It escalated while officers were attempting to speak with him,” said Cambridge Police Department Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr.
Ohene, who was born in Ghana, has been charged with exposure, disorderly conduct, assault, resisting arrest, and assault and battery on ambulance personnel, for allegedly spitting out blood on an EMT.
Fighting on his behalf are two Harvard law school professors, Prof. Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. and Prof. Dehlia Umunna, both of whom are Black, who now represent Ohene. They have issued a joint statement, saying the incident has been “a trying ordeal” for Ohene and his family:
“We do not intend to litigate these matters in the media… Several students captured the incident on their cell phones. The video speaks for itself.”
Finding healing and accountability
Students from across Harvard University are communicating with one another about ways to organize in the wake of the incident. Many are shying away from the press in hopes that the case will be resolved internally without jeopardizing Ohene’s ability to study in the U.S.
The Harvard BLSA has issued a statement with demands centered on an internal crisis team that does not involve the local Cambridge police department.
“People were shaken up by what they saw on Friday,” says Lauren Williams, a Harvard Law student and incoming president of the Harvard Black Law Students Association, in an interview with theGrio.
“We are first and foremost concerned about [Selorm]. We want to make sure the university supports him, whether it be through academic or mental health support,” says Williams.
“I’m looking at the situation as an opportunity to heal and focus on what we can do—how can we heal, how can we process,” she says.
Harvard University President Drew Faust issued a statement calling the incident “profoundly disturbing.”
“We do not yet know all the facts,” writes Faust. “And it will take time before the necessary reviews have been completed and we have a fuller understanding of events leading up to the incident and the incident itself.”
Commissioner Bard, said he supported the officers and that they responded appropriately in deciding to take Ohene down.
For students like James, who is focusing her studies on both law and business, witnessing the incident was upsetting but it also incited a call to action for reform.
“Four armed adult men beating up on an unarmed, vulnerable kid is not justifiable force,” wrote James. “It is assault. It is gang violence… A few uniforms and badges cannot change the brutal, excessive, unjustifiable nature of these actions.”