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HUPD Chief Says Harvard Yard Encampment is Peaceful, Defends Students’ Right to Protest

Harvard University Police Chief Victor A. Clay poses for a portrait outside Widener Library. Clay defending pro-Palestine students' right to protest amid the third day of the Harvard Yard encampment.
Harvard University Police Chief Victor A. Clay poses for a portrait outside Widener Library. Clay defending pro-Palestine students' right to protest amid the third day of the Harvard Yard encampment. By Julian J. Giordano
By Sally E. Edwards and Asher J. Montgomery, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard University Police Department Chief Victor A. Clay defended the rights of pro-Palestinian protesters staging an encampment in Harvard Yard and said the demonstration has remained peaceful in a Friday interview.

“You can see in the Yard right now — we are keeping our students safe and they are protesting peacefully and it’s their right and we are going to support that,” Clay said.

Though interim University President Alan M. Garber ’76 said Monday that there is a “very high bar” before police officers would stop a large-scale protest on campus, Clay’s comments were the clearest indication yet that students face no imminent threat of being arrested at Harvard.

Clay said HUPD’s goal is to keep students safe while respecting their rights to free speech and demonstration on campus. Police have been monitoring the student encampment 24/7 since it began Wednesday afternoon.

“We would love for there to be no reason for us to take an enforcement action,” Clay said.

During the interview — his first of the semester — Clay said he would only arrest protesters in the case of “significant property damage or physical violence at any level,” not simply at the request of senior University administrators like Garber.

“You can’t ask me to arrest somebody unless they commit a misdemeanor in your presence or in my presence,” he said in an interview with The Crimson on Friday. “Whatever the guidelines of the Mass. General Law states, that gives me the authority to arrest.”

Though Dean of Students Thomas Dunne sent an email to undergraduates threatening disciplinary action against the protesters on Thursday afternoon, Clay said HUPD would not have a role in enforcing administrative sanctions.

“It would have to be a violation of the law,” he said. “Not an administrative policy, but the law.”

Last week, Columbia University President Nemat “Minouche” Shakif authorized the New York City Police department to arrest more than 100 students on charges of trespassing. Students have also been arrested at Yale University, Emerson College, and the University of Texas at Austin.

In light of the arrests at Columbia and Yale, Clay said University administration worked in partnership with HUPD to take preemptive measures by restricting access to Harvard Yard to University affiliates only.

“We didn’t have specific information that anybody from Harvard was going to establish an encampment,” he said. “We saw that other campuses were experiencing encampments, and that a lot of external folks were coming onto their property, who don’t respect the institutions or the property or the history of that institution.”

Harvard University police officers stationed outside Massachusetts Hall during the encampment.
Harvard University police officers stationed outside Massachusetts Hall during the encampment. By Julian J. Giordano

Clay said that HUPD presence in the Yard has not increased due to the encampment, but that officers are “more concentrated” around Massachusetts Hall — which houses Garber’s office — and the encampment.

He added, however, that the force has increased the number of mobile police officers patrolling campus outside the Yard in light of the recent encampment, bringing the number of officers from seven to 12.

“Right now, we have four additional officers on every shift, and one supervisor,” Clay said.

However, Clay said that HUPD significantly increased their overall presence on campus following the October 7 attacks, when a doxxing truck arrived on campus targeting students.

“The increase in our presence started Oct. 7, it didn’t start with this encampment. Our students felt incredibly uncomfortable, and some were actually threatened and some felt threatened by those events,” he said.

“We increased our presence to respond to their calls for escorts, patrol checks, safety, and investigating — and just to create a safe environment,” Clay added, “We actually deployed more officers in and around student housing to make people feel safer.”

This increased staffing has resulted in overtime payments amounting to several hundred thousand dollars, according to Clay.

While Clay declined to comment on how other campus and state police departments responded to encampments, he said that HUPD has “unique and very thoughtful processes and tactics” distinguishing it from other universities.

“I ask my officers to focus on our craft, which is keeping people safe, being visible, being professional, listening, being supportive and responsive — instead of worrying about the politics or the pressure that’s being put on the University,” Clay said.

—Staff writer Sally E. Edwards can be reached at sally.edwards@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @sallyedwards04 or on Threads @sally_edwards06.

—Staff writer Asher J. Montgomery can be reached at asher.montgomery@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @asherjmont or on Threads @asher_montgomery.

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