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Editorials

Swatting and the Systemic Effects of Policing on Campus

By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

Just last week, at least five armed Harvard University Police Department officers raided a suite of four Black seniors in Leverett House in response to a false 911 call.

While we are glad that there was no actual threat and no physical harm to the students, we must acknowledge that the students were hardly left emotionally unscathed.

To be woken up at 4 a.m. in the morning to the banging knocks and bellows to “open up” of police officers dressed in full riot gear, who then order you out of your suite at gunpoint, is not only unnerving but also deeply traumatic. We can only imagine how, considering the pronounced historical record of fatal outcomes between police officers and Black people, the stakes of the encounter were heightened for the four students involved.

We therefore condemn, in the strongest terms possible, the individual who made the call, as well as swatting at large. We hope Harvard will pursue justice to the fullest extent of the law — and its internal procedures, should the perpetrator be an affiliate — to deter similar appalling events.

In this attack, we see again how a militarized campus police presence can be weaponized to terrorize Black students. This incident therefore warrants, yet again, a discussion of the failure of policing on campus.

As we have opined before, HUPD is just like a city police force — but a worse one that Harvard pays for. Accordingly, it is not immune to the issues that plague militarized police units. One on-campus activist group estimated in 2020 that our University spends $20 million annually on HUPD, which by and large deals with cases of property theft and suspiciously defined “suspicious activity.” Such an institution does not end crime or poverty, but pushes us to imagine a more equitable, peaceful solution to these issues.

The weaponization of policing against Black students is only possible because policing is specifically a construct of anti-Blackness. In the history of the United States, police patrols were first created to respond to early Black resistance in the form of slave uprisings. These tactics went on to inform how policing is used broadly against communities of color today.

None of this understanding of policing’s institutional history appeared in the University’s response to the attack. The administrative response failed to acknowledge that the students were Black, a fact that significantly contextualizes the weight held by this event. The woefully underwhelming email makes only passing references to affected communities, whom it directs towards a generic list of mental health and wellbeing resources.

We are further dismayed that it took over 48 hours for administrators to string together this response to publicly acknowledge and condemn the swatting attack for the first time — longer than it took The Crimson to report on it. When it comes to what’s happening on our campus, we deserve transparency from the people who run it. As our community continues to grapple with the effects of this event, we need to understand what actions are being undertaken in the investigation, and why.

Harvard must take proactive steps to prevent swatting in general, especially given the recent increase in these violent attacks. But the University should also consider the resulting harms as they relate to historically marginalized populations on this campus — a line of inquiry that should move the University to stop perpetuating a policing system weaponized against Black students.

Until then, we extend our support and voices to the four students most affected by this deeply tragic, unfathomable event. As The Crimson’s Editorial Board, our range is often limited to words on newsprint — but we hope that, in the aftermath of this incident, those impacted can also feel the collective concern and aching hearts that penned these words.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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