Harvard Student’s April Arrest Sparks Controversy


Miriam Alvarez-Rosenbloom

Pictured: Mass. Ave., the street where Harvard student Selorm Ohene was arrested.

Nathan Kolodney, Contributing Writer

On Friday, April 13th, Harvard University Health Services (HUHS) received reports of a naked male, Harvard student Selorm Ohene, 21, standing in the middle of Massachusetts Avenue. HUHS transferred this call to the Cambridge Police Department (CPD). Police came to the scene on reports that Ohene had thrown his clothes at a woman passing by.

The police attempted to talk to Ohene, but he was reportedly behaving erratically and high on drugs. After a few minutes, Ohene began to walk towards one of the officers, at which point the four officers tackled him to the ground. CPD reported Ohene had been making aggressive moves towards the officers, but some bystanders counter this narrative, saying the officers’ attacks were unprovoked. While on the ground, one of the officers punched Ohene five times in the stomach. CPD reported that this was an attempt to get Ohene to relax his arms so that the officers could handcuff him.  Ohene was arrested and charged with indecent exposure and disorderly conduct, as well as assault and resisting arrest. Video of the incident was released both by CPD and by bystanders.

After the video was released, the Harvard Black Law Student Association (BLSA) tweeted that the police officers’ actions were an act of police brutality. CPD replied to this tweet defending the action of its officers, stating, “Numerous attempts made by officers to calm the male down were met with opposition, and his hostility escalated while officers attempted to speak with him.”

Mayor Marc McGovern called the video ‘disturbing,’ saying that the mistreatment of black Americans by law enforcement had ‘no place in Cambridge.’”

The BLSA then issued an official statement calling CPD’s account of the events incorrect, stating that Ohene “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.” In a New York Times interview, Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern called the video “disturbing,” saying that the mistreatment of black Americans by law enforcement had “no place in Cambridge.” McGovern also commented that policing in Cambridge was “far ahead of many communities in the country.” In an email to the Register Forum, the CPD director of communications stated, “We would encourage students to review the materials to have a more informed understanding and view of the incident.”

CRLS student Alfred Taylor ’19 commented in an interview with the Register Forum: “I think that the arrest was justified due to the obvious fact that he was under the influence of drugs, but the manner in which they arrested him was unjust. He clearly didn’t have the capability to hurt anyone.” Junior Martino Boni-Beadle noted, “It’s surprising to see things like this happening in Cambridge,” continuing, “We always assume that we live in a perfect place, but a lot of the same problems just exist beneath the surface.”

This piece also appears in our May print edition.