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Viral justice?

The media might have moved on, but RCC students won't let a case of potential police brutality on campus fade without a fight
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  November 23, 2010

AFTER-SCHOOL PROJECT: When video of Boston Police using force to restrain a 16-year-old boy at Roxbury Community College was posted online, RCC students protested near campus and pressed the BPD for answers. The matter is now under investigation by the Suffolk County DA’s office.

The seven-minute YouTube clip begins with five Boston police officers, crowding a Roxbury Community College entranceway, restraining a face-down suspect. Before it's clear what's happening, a plainclothes cop in jeans and work boots pins the boy's left calf, throws four hammer punches to the back, then switches to southpaw and delivers three uppercuts. Moving a uniformed colleague out of the way, the same officer then assumes a runner's stance, secures his grip, and follows up with three knees to the chest. The suspect is instructed to put his hands behind his back, and responds in evident agony: "My hands are behind my back . . . Who the fuck keeps stepping on me?"

That's just from one angle. A shorter video shot by another witness begins moments earlier, and shows the plainclothes officer connecting with seven blows to the torso, while another cop is swinging on the suspect's rib cage. Through the ordeal, it's hard to see the victim's face, though blood leaks from underneath his green hood and smears the metal grate scraping his nose, as well as the left pant leg of an officer who's straddling his neck.

The video went viral four days after the October 22 incident. Community outrage was fueled by the revelation that the suspect — a fugitive fleeing from Department of Youth Services custody — was only 16 years old, and by a police report that did not appear to match the video. In the days after, RCC students protested near campus, and marched down Columbus Avenue to picket Boston Police Department headquarters. Faith leaders and local activists joined the cause, as did a handful of Boston elected officials.

City Councilor Ayanna Pressley tweeted that she was "deeply troubled," while her colleague, Council President Mike Ross, gave his own condemnation of what he called "an unmeasured use of force." Ross's comments drew the ire of an attorney for the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, who suggested that Ross "spend the day at the police academy, learning how police officers are trained."

Mayor Tom Menino had a more cautious response. "We don't tolerate this in Boston," he told reporters. "If we have to bring action, we will bring action, but what you see [in the videos] might not be the whole story."

Under increasing public pressure, BPD Commissioner Ed Davis turned the investigation over to the office of Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley. The DA's office described the request as unusual in the case of a non-fatal arrest.

Other than the police report, which is at odds with what the videos show by claiming the victim violently resisted arrest, there have been few explanations provided by the city — let alone apologies offered. The events of October 22 inflicted lasting wounds, as the images of that juvenile being held down and assaulted remain stuck in the minds of those who witnessed the struggle first-hand, and also on the conscience of many more RCC students who have since taken up the fight against police brutality. Their message: this is not going to blow over.

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  Topics: News Features , Dan Conley, Boston Police Department, YouTube,  More more >
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