The Black Lives Matter movement may no longer have a megaphone in the White House, but academia is more than ready to take up the slack, as an ongoing policing controversy at Harvard University shows.
On Friday, April 13, a little after 9 p.m., campus health and police authorities began receiving calls about a student causing a commotion in the middle of one of Cambridge’s busiest streets. Twenty-one-year-old Selorm Ohene, a Ghanaian native, was high on LSD and naked, having thrown his clothes into a female passerby’s face.
Three Cambridge Police Department officers and a transit cop arrived at the scene and for several minutes tried to calm Ohene down and persuade him to accept assistance.
Their efforts were met with escalating “opposition and hostility,” according to Cambridge Police Chief Branville Bard Jr. Ohene stepped toward one of the officers with his fists balled, according to the police report. Fearing that Ohene could run into traffic and harm himself or others, the officers decided to take him down.
As captured in a widely circulated cellphone video, one officer tackled Ohene from behind. Once on the ground, Ohene began swinging his arms and flailing wildly; the officers were unable to secure his arms for handcuffing. Another officer punched him five times in the torso with what are known as “compliance strikes,” designed to weaken a resisting suspect’s strength and reduce his drive to fight.
As soon as the officers were able to cuff Ohene, they backed off. Two Cambridge officers were injured during the struggle. In the ambulance, Ohene spit saliva and blood in the face of a medical technician. Two weeks after the incident, Ohene was still being held in the hospital for psychological observation.
Harvard administrators — those noted experts in public safety and police tactics — immediately racialized the incident and shoehorned it into the Black Lives Matter narrative.
Harvard administrators — those noted experts in public safety and police tactics — immediately racialized the incident and shoehorned it into the Black Lives Matter narrative. Ready-to-hand was the ever-growing diversity bureaucracy and its hackneyed rhetoric about threats to the “safety” of students of color on US campuses.
President Drew Gilpin Faust announced via email that this “profoundly disturbing” arrest comes during a period of “increasingly urgent questions about race and policing in the United States.” It raised questions, she wrote, about whether “people from all backgrounds and life experiences can come together confident in their ability to do their best work in a safe, supportive, and constructive environment.”
Actually, the only background and life experience that were relevant to the officers’ actions was the fact that Ohene had recently ingested enough drugs to render him out of control. His race, background or life experience had nothing to do with their response.
Harvard Law School dean John F. Manning doubled down on the racial interpretation. “What occurred last night reminds us again of troubling questions about the relationship between police and the community nationwide — and particularly encounters with members of the Black community,” Manning wrote. Manning’s reflexive resort to racial rhetoric is particularly regrettable in a law school dean, who should have a higher standard of proof before making racially volatile statements.
At the Graduate School of Education, various deanlets urged students, faculty and staff to avail themselves of counseling and mental-health services. The hapless Kennedy School dean, Douglas Elmendorf, sounded all the right notes about the incident’s “impact” on the Kennedy School “community” and about the school’s support for “distressed students.”
Not good enough, according to the students. Elmendorf’s email was “unsatisfactory,” wrote these commissars, because it failed to identify the victim as black, and was not sent until the Monday after the incident.
Dean of Freshmen Thomas Dingman opined that a call to help “should not result in somebody being beaten.” If Dingman acknowledged that Ohene had been violently resisting arrest, the Harvard Crimson did not report that fact.
Naturally, students snapped into crisis mode. A new organization, Black Students Organizing for Change, protested throughout Harvard Yard on April 21. BSOC members held signs reading “I Don’t Feel Safe” and “Will Harvard Call the Police on Me Too?” Organizer Hilda Jordan ’19 tearfully initiated a chant of “Treat me, don’t beat me.”
Consistent with all such outbreaks of student racial agitation and self-pity, BSOC demanded more diversity infrastructure — in this case, the expedited hiring of “Black and Brown counselors at Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services.”
The Harvard Black Law Students Association released a statement on “Police Brutality at Harvard.” It accused the Cambridge Police Department of trying to “obstruct videotaping” of the arrest. There is no evidence of such obstruction. According to the most-circulated video, passersby were free to record, and indeed had been told that they could do so by one of the officers, according to Chief Bard.
Members of the Harvard Undergraduate Council released a statement denouncing “anti-Black racism at Harvard, in Cambridge, and in our world at large.” Overlooked was the fact that Harvard has spent tens of millions of dollars on diversity sinecures and that it strives mightily to admit and hire as many blacks as possible.
So was this a “brutal instance of police violence,” in the words of Harvard’s Association of Black Law Students? It was not. The officers used force proportional to the need to subdue Ohene and ceased once he was restrained.
Someone who is high on hallucinogens is beyond reason and often unresponsive even to his own physical pain. Had the officers allowed Ohene to run into traffic, and had he been hit and injured, they would have been blamed for indifference to black life.
Harvard’s administrators, like the rest of the public, have no idea how hard it is to subdue a resisting suspect. “If someone does not want to be handcuffed, it is almost impossible to handcuff him without multiple officers holding down the four quadrants of the body,” explains Jim Glennon, a police trainer with Calibre Press.
A police chief in an uber-progressive New England town dismisses the black law students’ claim that the takedown, in the words of the “Brutality Statement,” was “without provocation.”
A “mentally ill man high on drugs running naked down busy city streets is a provocation,” the chief says. “These are people who have never had to physically struggle with anyone in their lives. Police who are following this episode are disgusted. There is nowhere left to go in some American cities: The police are simply not being permitted to police.”
Some observers date the roots of our current anti-police climate to 2009, when President Barack Obama accused Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley of “acting stupidly” for arresting Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and alleged that the nation’s police were “picking up blacks and Hispanics . . . often for no cause.”
The Obama administration may be gone, but the poisonous racializing of public-order policing lives on in university culture, at Harvard and elsewhere. Until that poison dissipates, the result will be more street disorder and more racial tension.
This piece originally appeared in the New York Post