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Students renewed their calls for the abolition of the Harvard University Police Department after HUPD officers were seen monitoring a demonstration held in Boston on Tuesday over the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by Minneapolis police.
The pushback erupted on Twitter after a photo surfaced on the social media platform Tuesday evening showing a HUPD officer, wearing a helmet and a jacket emblazoned with the department’s name and the University’s Veritas crest, monitoring the demonstration in Franklin Park, which is located in the center of Boston.
People across the country have scrutinized aggressive police strategies to control the protests sparked by Floyd’s murder, one of several recent murders of black people at the hands of police. Harvard affiliates had already voiced concerns regarding Harvard’s police department over its policing of minority affiliates and reports of its racist and sexist internal culture.
In response to the photo, which garnered more than one thousand likes and hundreds of shares, Harvard affiliates expressed outrage on social media.
The Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign and the Harvard Ethnic Studies Coalition also co-authored a petition entitled “Black Lives Matter: Abolish HUPD,” which was addressed to University President Lawrence S. Bacow and other top Harvard administrators. The petition dismissed administrators’ recent emails condemning Floyd’s murder and police brutality and wrote that the University is complicit in police violence.
“Tuesday's HUPD presence in Boston has proven where Harvard's investments lie: not in the wellness or safety of its community but in the policing of Black and Brown communities,” the petition reads.
The petition also questioned why a university trimming its budget in the face of a financial crisis dispatched its officers to an event out of its jurisdiction.
University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on the petition.
HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano wrote in an emailed statement that HUPD officers attended the protest Tuesday night to assist local law enforcement. He wrote that HUPD and local police departments throughout Massachusetts maintain “strong partnerships” and mutually assist one another in monitoring large-scale events.
“Last evening, the Boston Police Department requested a deployment of HUPD mountain bike officers to assist in providing a safe and secure environment for the ongoing protests occurring in Boston,” he wrote. “In the past, we have provided assistance to these departments under a mutual aid request for support in monitoring large scale events, including the Boston Marathon, post-Super Bowl and World Series celebrations, and Fourth of July fireworks.”
The Boston Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In September, HUPD helped Cambridge police officers arrest a dozen protestors on trespassing charges at Amazon’s Kendall Square office. The protestors were condemning Amazon’s business ties to United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Swain, the Harvard spokesperson, declined to comment on whether Harvard paid for the security fees associated with HUPD officers’ assistance at Tuesday’s demonstration. Catalano also declined to comment, citing department policy not to comment on staffing, equipment, operations, and security measures.
One of the HUPD officers who monitored Tuesday’s protest was the subject of an internal investigation launched by the department this past summer, according to two HUPD officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The officer, detective Thomas F. Karns, had a physical altercation in HUPD’s parking lot with a black officer roughly four years ago after he allegedly used homophobic and racist slurs to call the black officer a “f----t n----r.” Karns disputed that he called the officer the racist slur.
The recent criticism leveled at HUPD is only the latest in a series of incidents that grabbed headlines this past semester.
A January investigation by The Crimson found repeated instances of racism and sexism within the department. In lawsuits, discrimination complaints, and interviews, roughly 20 current and former officers accused the department’s leadership of showing favoritism and retaliating against officers who spoke out against the department’s culture, set by HUPD Chief Francis D. “Bud” Riley.
Following the investigation, students called for Riley’s resignation and the abolition of the department.
Instead, Riley launched a review into HUPD’s internal culture and its policing of Harvard more broadly. Though Riley tapped a pair of top law enforcement experts to lead the assessment, his oversight of the review and his appointment of current officers to the working group caused the executive board of the Harvard police union to voice dissatisfaction with the ongoing review.
In February, witnesses to an arrest made by a HUPD officer at the Smith Campus Center alleged that the officer involved used excessive force. A subsequent investigation by The Crimson found that the arresting officer, Anthony T. Carvello, had used force while arresting three black homeless men at the Smith Center during the span of five months. Several HUPD officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity, in addition to witnesses of those arrests, said they believe Carvello used excessive force during the arrests.
Anthropology Ph.D candidate Jarrett M. Drake, a core organizer of Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign, said in an interview that he was “alarmed” to see HUPD officers monitoring the protest.
“What bothered me about Harvard police department's involvement in monitoring those protests against the murder of George Floyd is that it connects to our own campaign's interactions and experiences with the Harvard police,” he said.
Drake said HUPD officers had a strong presence at HPDC’s gatherings on campus this past academic year. He said he believes the department discriminates against students of color on campus and pays closer attention to them.
“As a black person, I have centuries worth of evidence to fear for my life every time I see a police officer,” he said. “And that applies to a university cop, it applies to a city cop and it applies to a state cop. And the Harvard police has been no different in that regard.”
Reacting to Tuesday’s photo of a HUPD officer monitoring the protest, African and African-American Studies and History professor Walter Johnson called for HUPD to disarm on Twitter. In an emailed statement, he said he was “dismayed” to see Harvard police officers “deployed in riot gear.”
“I do not see how it serves the mission of the university to have its police detailing in the midst of what has seemed to many of us like a national police riot,” he wrote. “It seems to me that it is past time to discuss the down-sizing and disarmament of the Harvard Police Department. At a time when all branches of the university are being asked to make substantial cuts, it seems only appropriate to have a conversation about whether or not a university needs an armed police force, especially one boasting the sort of gear on display yesterday.”
Correction: June 4, 2020
Due to a transcription error, a previous version of this article misquoted Jarrett M. Drake. He referred to "a university cop."
—Staff writer Ema R. Schumer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @emaschumer.
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