Cambridge Mayor Calls Video Of Black Harvard Student’s Arrest ‘Disturbing’

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CAMBRIDGE — Police have released an onlooker’s video depicting the takedown-style arrest of a naked black Harvard student police say was under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, an incident that has prompted accusations of police brutality from a black Harvard Law School student organization and a description of “disturbing” from Mayor Marc C. McGovern.

The incident happened Friday night, and after viewing footage of the arrest on Sunday, McGovern released a statement, saying that while “Cambridge affirms Black Lives Matter,” the slogan “must be true in practice as well.” 

Video posted to social media shows the arrestee, a naked 21-year-old Selorm Ohene, pinned to the ground by police after being encountered at a Massachusetts Avenue traffic island near Waterhouse Street, absorbing several punches: 

The original unedited video, shot by an onlooker and later released by police, is more than seven minutes long.  [Editor’s Note:  Bad language warning.]

The video shows three Cambridge Police officers and one MBTA Transit Police officer pinning Ohene to the pavement. 

On Saturday morning, the Harvard Black Law Students Association took to Twitter to claim that “a member of our Harvard community was subjected to violence at the hands of Cambridge Police,” prompting the Cambridge Police Department to post its own response to the association’s original tweet — complete with Ohene’s arrest report:

According to police, a woman originally called Harvard University Health Services to report that Ohene had stripped himself of his clothes and had thrown them at her. HUHS then transferred the call to Cambridge police. Police claim Ohene’s “hostility escalated” as they attempted to speak with him, and that Ohene was physically subdued “after he was observed clenching both of his fists” and “taking steps toward the officers.” 

As for the take-down, police claim Ohene “resisted arrest once on the ground.”

The tweeted report makes no mention of the five punches Ohene absorbed, which police later claimed were necessary in order to subdue him. 

Ohene was charged with indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, assault, resisting arrest, and assault and battery on an ambulance worker. Police say Ohene spat blood and spittle at a paramedic.

Harvard Black Law Students Association later released a statement condemning the treatment of Ohene, claiming that officers “lunged” at Ohene “without provocation” while a “pool of blood” remained on the pavement after Ohene was carried away from the scene in an ambulance.

The student group claimed that the university’s health services should have been dispatched to the scene instead of police, and that by contacting police the university “put this student at great risk of being killed by the police.”

“We are interested in protecting the privacy of this victim of police violence,” the student group stated. “We ask that those who know the victim’s name not share it with others, that his name not be included in internal or external conversations about this incident and that, in response to this letter, our conversation be focused on the broader issues of police violence against Black and Brown people and the following demands, and not this particularized incident, which is a symptom of a larger, systemic problem.”

McGovern in his statement cited his own experience as a social worker.

“As a social worker who has worked for decades in therapeutic schools, I have personally had to engage in physical restraints,” McGovern stated. “They are chaotic, violent, dangerous, and should only be used as a last resort. To those witnessing a physical restraint, as well as for all involved, these incidents can be traumatic.”

McGovern went on to claim that policing in Cambridge “is far ahead of many communities across the country” and vowed that “as mayor, I will work with my colleagues to make sure that the horrific treatment of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement has no place in Cambridge.”