After the brutal beating of a Black Harvard student, Selorm Ohene, was caught on video, Harvard University has worked to mend its relationship with the black community and address the relationship between police and the diverse student body they serve.
The University’s Chief of Police, Francise Riley, wrote and op/ed piece admitting that the department fell short while addressing the department’s next steps.
“The HUPD’s relationship with the community is vital to achieving our mission. I have made earning this community’s trust and respect a priority in my time here at Harvard,” he wrote.
“Over the past two decades, we have worked with diverse groups of students (both undergraduate and graduate), faculty, and staff, as well as nationally recognized experts, toward this effort. As an example, in 2015, HUPD became the second university police department in the country to cycle all of its officers through procedural justice training, which emphasizes fairness and transparency. We also regularly conduct reviews of our community engagement and outreach efforts with the help of recognized experts in public safety organizational performance.
“As the head of the Harvard University Police Department, I have set high expectations for my officers and myself, and it is my hope that every interaction that students, faculty, and staff have with a member of the force is a positive one. Has the HUPD ever fallen short of meeting its own expectations? Yes. I wish it were otherwise, but I am proud of the fact that those moments have been exceedingly rare and that the HUPD has used them—and the criticism they have generated—as opportunities to improve. I realize that as a Department, “we are only as good as our last interaction.”
He continued: “I speak for the entire department when I say that we are honored to be members of the Harvard community. It is deeply satisfying to work with people within an institution whose core belief is in the promise of bringing individuals from vastly different backgrounds together to seek understanding, to ask and answer questions, and to foster mutual respect. Our purpose is to maintain a safe and secure environment within and towards these goals.”
After the beating went 7-minute video went viral, showing Ohene being held down as officers struck him repeatedly, Harvard and the police department suffered widespread backlash.
A police report says Ohene was struck five times in the torso. He was taken to a local hospital after spitting up blood. Two officers were treated as well for minor injuries.
The Harvard Black Law Students Association released a statement after the assault by Cambridge police officers, calling for the Cambridge officers to be fired for failing to act appropriately to help a Harvard student that appeared to be suffering from a mental health crisis.