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Cambridge Mayor McGovern Calls Video of Harvard Student's Arrest ‘Disturbing’

UPDATED: April 16, 2018 at 6:18 a.m

Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern called video footage of at least one Cambridge Police Department officer repeatedly punching a black Harvard undergraduate Friday before law enforcement arrested the student “disturbing” in a statement Sunday.

McGovern's statement comes less than two days after a physical confrontation between a College student and four law enforcement officials—including three CPD officers and one Transit Police Department officer—that led to the student's arrest.

Marc C. McGovern
Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern.
The police approached the student, who was standing naked on a traffic island in the middle of Mass. Ave., around 9:09 p.m. Friday. After learning from acquaintances the student had previously taken narcotics, the officers engaged the student in a physical altercation.

CPD previously tweeted out an account of the interaction that states the student clenched "both of his fist and started taking steps towards" the police, prompting officers involved to "grab his legs and bring him to the ground." Eyewitnesses of the event—including members of the Harvard Black Law Students Association—have stated CPD's version of events is "incorrect" and have called the incident an instance of police brutality.

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"A naked, unarmed Black man stood still on the median at the center of Massachusetts Avenue," a statement later released by BLSA reads. "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 statement continues.

A CPD police report detailing the arrest states one officer involved in the incident punched the student at least five times while the student remained on the ground.

Unable to pry the student's "hands from underneath his body, I delivered approximately 5 strikes with closed fists to the area of his stomach," the police report reads. "These seemed ineffective."

The student was ultimately charged on several accounts including indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, and assault.

Some bystanders filmed the event, and at least one version of the video circulating on Twitter depicts some of the punches the CPD officer delivered to the student's stomach. The mayor's statement Sunday seems to respond to some version of video footage of the event.

"What is shown on the video is disturbing," McGovern wrote in the statement. "We have high standards for our police officers in Cambridge."

"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.

McGovern wrote he called the Cambridge City Manager after hearing of the student's arrest. He wrote he is following the situation "closely" and that he has had several discussions with the City Manager and the Commissioner across the weekend. He also noted his colleagues on the Cambridge City Council are in communication with "student organizers and community activists;" following the incident Friday, hundreds of Harvard affiliates banded together across campus to meet, reflect, and craft a response going forward.

McGovern also wrote he is in communication with Police Commissioner Branville Bard, who assured him CPD will investigate the Friday night incident. CPD policy mandates an interval review whenever officers use force.

Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale also issued a statement over the weekend, in part writing he has “great faith” in Bard and other officials' ability to conduct this internal review.

McGovern appeared to indicate some of the review's results may become public in his statement Sunday, writing that he and his colleagues will follow the review "closely to ensure that all the facts are properly investigated and that the public is informed of any and all developments."

In his statement, McGovern also reaffirmed that Cambridge supports the Black Lives Matter movement. In his inaugural address in January, McGovern pledged to fight “racism, sexism, and hatred.”

“Cambridge affirms that Black Lives Matter, but it must be true in practice as well,” McGovern wrote in the statement Sunday. “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.”

—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at lucy.wang@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @lucyyloo22

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