"For this to take place on campus, it means that it can happen to everyone here," says Tajudeen Akinbode, a second-semester biological-science major and outspoken student rep. "This would not have happened at Boston University. Some people around here don't want to talk about it, but I'm not keeping quiet. Considering that some students feel insecure and unsafe, this is what we're supposed to talk about. We have to."
'We're being ignored'
At first, the RCC community was divided on how far to pursue the issue — given that the victim was not one of its own. But it now seems determined, as a whole, to get some answers. School president Dr. Terrence Gomes upset some students and faculty with an October 28 e-mail labeling the incident a "police matter," since the arrested party is not enrolled at RCC. But Gomes has come to sympathize with the RCC' community's outrage over cops engaging in what the videos present as violent actions. He says he'd been unaware of the arrest before it hit the Web, and regrets his initial reaction to dismiss the school's role in healing the resulting wounds. This week, Gomes told the Phoenix he shares the prevailing worry about students' sense of safety, and is working to support those who are questioning the incident that split their school and shocked the city.
"The students are well within their right to protest however they feel they need to," says Gomes. "Upon watching the video, I observed what in my opinion was excessive force . . . Despite what may go on nearby, this has always been a safe haven, and I don't want students to ever feel like they have to worry about those kinds of things happening here."
Like her school president, protest organizer India Cox didn't know about the arrest until she heard about it on the morning news. She's in her second year at RCC, and a criminal-justice major, yet no one in her circle knew about the melee prior to it making headlines. So when she learned that a teenager had endured such treatment — in plain sight, no less — Cox jumped into action, helping organize two demonstrations in as many days. She had no trouble finding support; others — including Eusida Blidgen, who posted the bombshell videos on YouTube — were also rounding up troops.
"We felt then and still feel like we're being ignored," says Cox. "The officers have not been fired, so it's our belief that there's not much being done. [The authorities] want things to die down, and to think this is going to go away. But it's not. We're going to keep raising the issue until we see results."
In the media, the story topped the local news for two nights running and seemed to have legs. Four days after the initial reports broke, it was discovered that one of the parties involved, 32-year-old patrol officer Michael McManus, had two years earlier — during the celebration following the Celtics' 2008 NBA championship — tackled an Emmanuel College student. The student subsequently died from related complications, and earlier this year, the city paid a $3 million out-of-court settlement to his family. (McManus is assigned to desk duty pending the outcome of the current investigation. The department did not respond by press time to Phoenix inquiries regarding other officers involved.)