UPDATED: April 21, 2018 at 7:10 p.m.
Several freshmen and proctors said they feel uncertain for the future at a meeting with administrators Wednesday night meant to address Cambridge Police Department officers’ Friday arrest of a black College student that some have called an instance of police brutality.
Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67 emailed freshmen Tuesday to alert them to the meeting, which took place in the common room of Straus, one of Harvard’s freshman dormitories. In addition to Dingman, Ivy Yard Dean Michael C. Ranen and Elm Yard Dean Jasmine M. Waddell also attended the discussion.
At the event, students said they feel frustrated in the wake of the arrest. Attendees particularly questioned why CPD made the arrest—Harvard University Health Services was first contacted on Friday, but HUHS transferred the call to the Harvard University Police Department. HUPD then transferred the call to CPD, according to protocol.
Before his arrest Friday, the student was standing on a median in the middle of Massachusetts Avenue. Though feet from Harvard Law School, the student was off-campus and was thus outside HUPD’s jurisdiction, which strictly comprises campus ground.
“It's clear that if people were following protocols, the protocols themselves aren't working,” Dingman said at the meeting. “Anytime somebody reaches out seeking help for a friend, which is what we hope all of you would do, it should not result in somebody being beaten.”
The student was arrested Friday after he and four members of local law enforcement—including three CPD officers and one Transit Police Department officer—engaged in a physical confrontation. The officers tackled the undergraduate, who was naked and likely under the influence of narcotics, to the ground.
A later CPD police report states the student clenched his fists and made aggressive moves toward the officers, spurring them to tackle the undergraduate. But eyewitnesses of the incident—including members of the Harvard Black Law Students Association—have stated that CPD’s version of events is incorrect and that the officers acted “without provocation.”
A video of the incident later published by the New York Times shows the student standing still surrounded by four officers while the officers talk to him for at least several seconds. The student takes two steps towards one officer before taking a step back and raising his arms to chest-level. Then another officer tackles the student from behind.
While the student remained on the ground, at least one CPD officer punched the undergraduate in the stomach five times in an attempt to handcuff him, according to the CPD police report. The student was ultimately charged on several counts including assault, resisting arrest, and indecent exposure.
BLSA has called the incident an instance of police brutality. The arrest has roiled campus and drawn national headlines.
On Wednesday evening, some students said they feel frustrated with Harvard’s administration. The students asked for clarification of the amnesty policy—a policy that prevents intoxicated or otherwise impaired students from incurring disciplinary charges from Harvard if a friend delivers that student to HUHS or HUPD.
Attendees also asked for further clarity on jurisdiction boundaries between CPD and HUPD. Ruva Chigwedere ’21 said she attended the meeting to reemphasize students’ concerns to administrators.
“I really wanted to impose the fact that we want action and to lay out specific things that they could do to make the situation better and specific frustrations, and I knew that I wasn't the first voice they were hearing but I just wanted to be there to reinforce it again,” Chigwedere said.
Proctors—residential advisors for freshmen—echoed and supported students in their frustration at the discussion.
“You are not alone in your frustration,” specialty proctor for race relations Monica Tibbits-Nutt said. “This is not one lightning rod incident.”
Earlier in the day Wednesday, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana sent an email to students calling the incident a “disturbing arrest.” University President Drew G. Faust and Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern have also publicly called the arrest “disturbing.”
Khurana wrote in his email that the College can only share a “limited” amount of information in order to protect the student’s privacy.
Proctors said they feel uncertain regarding what to tell freshmen going forward. Abishek Raman, a proctor in Holworthy East, said he feels especially anxious about the approach of Primal Scream, a semesterly tradition in which students run around the Yard naked and often intoxicated the night before the first day of final exams.
Raman noted past Primal Scream participants have run on Massachusetts Avenue, the site of the physical confrontation between the student and the police Friday.
Tibbits-Nutt said that—in the wake of the arrest—she is unsure what to tell next year’s crop of freshmen about HUPD.
“I can't go into the fall with my new entryway freshmen coming in, and say, ‘Yes, call HUPD,’ because the thing is for me, especially as a person of color, my thing is—you call me, especially when dealing with the Cambridge police,” Tibbits-Nutt said.
In an interview after the event, Chigwedere echoed Tibbits-Nutt’s words, especially citing the upcoming Visitas weekend, during which prospective members of the Class of 2022 will visit Harvard. Chigwedere said she thinks the College can and should serve as a home for many people, but that she does not want to give prospective students “false hope.”
“I don't know what I am going to do, because I am hosting a minority student, but I definitely cannot impress on them that they are completely safe because, as the incident Friday night told me, it jarred me because I realized I had been assuming that I was safe and that all of the institutions were there to protect me,” Chigwedere said. “That was false.”
“I would implore the University administration to take action and to listen because the students are not going to stop and we cannot stop for the sake of our safety and our comfort on this University's campus,” Chigwedere added. “We cannot stop.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: April 21, 2018
A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of Ruva Chigwedere '21.
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'Treat Me, Don't Beat Me'