It was Saturday night, and Nathan P. Whitfield ’09 was ready to party. First, he was going to attend the Harvard Society of Black Scientists and Engineers (HSBSE) step show, followed by a quick visit to the Heaven and Hell party in Currier House. The evening would close with the HSBSE after-party in the Lowell House dining hall, entitled the “NO HALF STEPPIN’ AFTER PARTY!!!”
The last part of the plan didn’t quite go according to schedule.
Whitfield was dancing at the after- party, when suddenly the crowd withdrew around a group of people fighting.
“It looked like massive chaos,” he said. “The next thing I know a chair flies by my face, literally three inches away.”
It was a chaotic night indeed, where “something of a melee”—as one police spokesman described it—broke out at the HSBSE after-party in Lowell. More than 20 police cruisers swarmed the scene, blocking a swath of Mt. Auburn Street. There, a police department’s German shepherd barked at students returning from nights of costumed revelry.
‘TIME TO GO’
The party followed HSBSE’s sixth-annual step dance, which featured dancers from Harvard, Tufts University, and Boston University (BU).
In its third year, the party attracted at least 400 guests from Harvard and other colleges in the area, including BU, Boston College, Emerson, MIT, and Lesley University. Guests had to show a college I.D. in order to enter the party, according to HSBSE President Devin D. Smith ’09.
At around 12:40 a.m., the HUPD officer stationed at Lowell dining hall requested that the DJ announce that if any fights broke out, the party would be shut down. Earlier, Smith said the party organizers asked for an additional HUPD officer because there were “so many people” present.
Twenty minutes later, when the party was getting into full swing, the DJ played the popular hip-hop song “Knuck if you Buck,” according to Jarred M. Watson, a student at Northeastern. The song’s lyrics include “Yeah we knuckin’ and buckin’ and ready to fight...See me, I ain’t nothin’ nice.”
“That’s a song where everybody goes wild,” Watson said. “The crowd started touching each other and bumping into each other. Then I saw a whole bunch of people screaming, and I saw people fighting.”
“I was standing there trying to grab somebody to dance with me and then I see a whole commotion,” said Dorchester resident Amigo Perez, 21. “I’m like, ‘Time to go.’”
HSBSE members and Harvard University Police Department officers present at the event quickly began to evacuate the crowd, Smith said.
“As soon as the fight broke out inside, we approached the DJ, asked him to turn off the music, and turned on the lights,” Smith said.
As additional brawls broke out in the Lowell courtyard, over 20 police patrol cars were deployed to the scene, including six state police cruisers and several Cambridge and HUPD cars.
“The next thing I know, there’s a massive fight in the courtyard, and all of a sudden I saw the police trying to break up the fight,” Whitfield said. “At this point, everybody was screaming because this was the second fight in a row. The police said, ‘everybody needs to get out of this courtyard,’ and people finally started listening and everybody started to run out of the main gate.”
“At this point, I see this sea of blue and white lights, and state troopers, police dogs, and the ambulances came. As we’re out there, more fights were happening. It looked so crazy. I have never seen anything like that,” Whitfield added.
Ralph F. Paone, Jr. ’09, a Lowell resident, was entering the courtyard as students were being evacuated.
“Cops were running in, people were storming out in a huge stream,” Paone said. “Cops were yelling and navigating people out of the courtyard with flashlights.”
Once outside of Lowell, the officers had trouble getting the crowd to disperse. Two party-goers, who were not Harvard students, were taken into custody for disorderly conduct, and several witnesses said they saw party-goers forcibly subdued.
“If [the persons in custody] had stayed there, there would have been problems,” Cambridge police spokesman Frank T. Pasquarello said.
By 2:30 a.m., most of the patrol cars had dispersed, and there were few signs of the commotion that had occurred.
AFTER THE AFTER-PARTY
Cambridge police officer Shawn Keogh was shocked by the sheer number of people involved.
“We haven’t seen this many bodies since the Red Sox won the World Series the last time,” Keough said.
Smith defended the party’s I.D. requirement.
“None of us [on HSBSE] really know who started the fight; we were very very restrictive at the party,” Smith said.
Smith said that the group will probably not hold the party again. He also emphasized that he felt HUPD’s response was fair, and not racially motivated.
“The HUPD officers were more than helpful,” he said. “I don’t think we should look further into whether or not there needed to be that many HUPD officers.”
Smith declined to give comment on the presence of Cambridge and State police.
Both persons taken into custody were released without charges, and despite the commotion, no one was injured, according to Pasquerello.
—April H.N. Yee contributed to the reporting of this story. —Staff writer Maxwell L. Child can be reached at email@example.com. —Staff writer Anna L. Tong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.