Selorm Ohene, a 21-year-old Harvard University student, is the subject of a controversial video that shows Cambridge police officers using force to arrest him after they say he was found naked in a street median.
“A video recorded by an onlooker shows a Cambridge Officer punching the man several times,” Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern said in a press release. You can watch the video below, but be aware that it’s disturbing. The video has caused outrage in some corners with people accusing the police of using brutality against a black man; the police commissioner says he’s standing by the officers and accuses Oherne of being disorderly, but the incident is under investigation.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Police Released a Seven-Minute Video Recorded by a Bystander
The more than 7-minute video was released by Cambridge police. It contains racial slurs and expletives used by bystanders as a crowd gathered. It starts by showing Ohene standing in a road median talking to and surrounded by four uniformed police officers. That goes on for some time, with the officers at arm’s length at least. A police squad car with flashing lights is at the scene.
Then, Ohene appears to reach toward an officer and another takes him down to the ground. A scuffle ensues. A crowd gathers as officers surround Ohene on the ground. Critics have accused them of beating Ohene. More citizens begin taking cell phone videos. “Let him breathe!” someone at the scene shouts.
According to MassLive, “officers can be seen repeatedly punching Ohene while bystanders shouted at police.”
“Police have acknowledged that an officer punched him five times in the stomach,” The New York Times reported.
2. The Police Commissioner Proclaimed His Support for the Officers
Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. gave a lengthy press conference in which he provided more details of the incident.
On Friday evening at 9:09 a.m., officers responded to an intersection for a disturbance. A woman had called police to report that a naked man had thrown his clothes into her face. About six other calls were received for a male who was “reportedly completely naked,” Bard said.
Officers located the male and “verbally engaged him” on the median. It was learned from his aquaintances that he may have ingested a hallucinogenic substance. “Numerous attempts were made by the officers to calm down the male, but they were met with opposition and hostility. It escalated while officers were attempting to speak with him,” said Bard.
“After he was observed clenching his fist and moving towards officers, the decision was made to take the individual down. His legs were grabbed, and he was taken down to the ground. Once on the ground, the male continued to resist arrest,” according to the police commissioner.
Three officers from the Cambridge Police Department and one from the Transit Police Department were required to gain compliance so he wouldn’t injure himself, responding officers, or others in the area. He was put in handcuffs, Bard said. Ohene was taken to the local hospital. While on the transport, he spit a mixture of blood and saliva into the face of a paramedic, according to Bard.
He is being charged with indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, assault, assault and battery, and resisting arrest. Two CPD officers were also treated at a local hospital for minor injuries. An internal review is being conducted.
“The goal in these situations is always to use the least amount of force and to get the subject to mental health providers using the least amount of force necessary. Ideally, in an optimal situation that’s no force,” said the police commissioner.
Asked if officers hit the man while he was on the ground, he responded, “The officers are trained to use the least amount of force necessary.”
“The video also shows the man wasn’t compliant” on the ground. “He was flailing, kicking,” said Bard, adding, “They continued to try to use other means to use control holds to get his arm under his body.” The commissioner said “it’s a very difficult thing to do” to “constrain an individual against their will.”
He asked the public to analyze the officers’ actions “in the context of a rapidly evolving situation” and added: “I absolutely do support the officers.”
“Ohene was found completely nude in the middle of Mass Ave. acting completely irrational,” Officer Steven Burke wrote in an incident report, according to MassLive. “As many as 30 onlookers had stopped to observe the nude male on Mass Ave. Vehicles also slowed to witness this obscene display. Every attempt that was made to calm Ohene down and reason with him was met with opposition.”
3. A Harvard Student Association Condemned the Police Action
The Harvard Black Law Students Association released a statement criticizing the police.
“On the evening of April 13th, a number of our current Harvard Black Law Students Association (HBLSA) members and admitted students witnessed a brutal instance of police violence at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Waterhouse Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A naked, unarmed Black man, stood still on the median at the center of Massachusetts Avenue across from Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church. He was surrounded by at least four Cambridge Police Department (CPD) officers who, without provocation, lunged at him, tackled him and pinned him to the ground,” the statement alleged.
The statement continued, “He was surrounded by at least four Cambridge Police Department (CPD) officers who, without provocation, lunged at him, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. While on the ground, at least one officer repeatedly punched the student in his torso as he screamed for help. The officers held him to the ground until paramedics arrived, placed him on a stretcher, and put him in the ambulance. A pool of blood remained on the pavement as the ambulance departed. Shortly thereafter, firefighters came and cleaned up the blood with bleach and water.”
The organization asked people not to share Ohene’s name.
4. Harvard’s President & the Mayor Both Said They Were Disturbed by the Incident
Drew Faust, the president of Harvard, released a statement in which she called the incident “profoundly disturbing” and “upsetting.”
The mayor released a statement as well. “What is shown on the video is disturbing. We have high standards for our police officers in Cambridge. In most cases, the extensive training our officers go through results in the de-escalation of damgerous situations. When confrontations cannot be averted and include the use of physical force, we must be willing to review our actions to ensure that our police officers are providing the highest level of safety for all,” he wrote.
He added, “Cambridge affirms that Black Lives Matter, but it must be true in practice as well. Policing in Cambridge is far ahead of many communities across the country, and yet we can always strive to do better. As Mayor, I will continue working with my colleagues to make sure that the horrific treatment of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement has no place in Cambridge.”
5. Ohene Is a Math Major at Harvard
Ohene is studying mathematics at Harvard, according to The New York Times. He is a native of Ghana.