A 13-year-old child was walking down Columbus Avenue by Carter Playground in Boston on November 11 when he was profiled, thrown to the ground and handcuffed by two plainclothes Northeastern University police officers. In a video posted to twitter, the officers are recorded kneeling on his back. The victim first begs them to stop, explaining that he is 13 and only carrying a BB gun, then cries as he’s handcuffed and dragged away by two more in-uniform officers.
Outrage is growing at this flagrant act of violence, with many students, alumni, and campus groups getting organized. On November 18, several groups held a day of action to demand the university make broad changes to address the root causes of what led to this assault on a minor. Among the demands are an end to Northeastern University Police Department’s interagency agreements with Boston Police and ICE, the disarmament of NUPD, and the creation of a restorative justice center.
A reflection of Northeastern’s relationship with its neighbors
Despite the university’s attempts to promote a progressive image, this is not the first time NUPD has committed a racially motivated attack. In 2017, two Black students were crossing campus at night when they were racially profiled and assaulted by NUPD officers. Later that same year, an intoxicated woman was threatened when two police officers reached for their guns while interacting with her on Massachusetts Avenue.
The NUPD equips large pickup trucks with ramming bars and employs officers carrying handguns. They have been armed with AR-15s since 2015 to “lessen the damage of school shootings” despite having no history of student shooters on Northeastern campus. The already overly militarized Boston Police Headquarters is right next to campus, making this weaponized occupation of the neighborhood both racist and redundant.
According to a report released by the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a majority of incidents and arrests by NUPD are of residents of the surrounding areas, not students. Northeastern resides in many historically Black and brown working class neighborhoods in various stages of gentrification, including Roxbury, Mission Hill, the South End and Fenway.
Charles T. Wallace-Thomas IV, an activist with Students Against Institutional Discrimination and [email protected], told Liberation News, “There are a lot of young students [from surrounding neighborhoods] and young people of color who use campus for its restaurants and other amenities that are available to the public. Often Black students at Northeastern are stopped and asked for their Northeastern ID to prove that they aren’t these other students, so it fits the MO we have of how campus is controlled.”
According to the NLG report, almost 40 percent of arrests made by the NUPD were for nothing more than outstanding warrants. When arrests were made for actual crimes, most were minor, such as theft of small items and intoxication.
NUPD is robbing people of years from their lives over petty crimes — from owing a few hundred dollars to being drunk at the wrong place at the wrong time — the same “crimes” that the students of Northeastern are hardly ever punished for.
Gentrification, policing, and an expanding campus
Northeastern’s policing of surrounding communities is tied closely to how the institution gentrifies them. In the past 20 years, Northeastern has rapidly expanded its campus, and constructed five major university buildings along Columbus Avenue with the majority of its new construction being on the Roxbury side of campus.
NUPD’s headquarters have also been strategically placed on Columbus Avenue, overseeing this development as it occurs. The general public is allowed to use some but not all of Northeastern’s facilities, meaning residents of the surrounding communities are often barred from campus if they are caught trying to access the wrong bathroom or dining hall.
This development has directly spiked rent. Housing prices in Roxbury jumped 70 percent between 2010 and 2015. Prices will only continue to rise as Northeastern develops more land in the neighborhood. In recent years, the amount of students living off campus increased by over 25 percent. With more plans underway to keep Northeastern expanding, Roxbury residents face evictions due to exorbitant rent increases directly resulting from the influx of university students.
Because Northeastern is technically a non-profit, it is exempt from taxes, but instead encouraged to pay the PILOT program (payment in lieu of tax) to the city of Boston. Half the payment is in cash, half is in community benefits. But Northeastern has never once paid its full PILOT payment, and what it creates in community benefits is decided by university administrators, ignoring whatever needs a neighborhood or its people might have.
A hostile presence in the community
The profiling and assault of this child on November 11 comes from Northeastern’s attitude that it should gentrify its neighbors and jail their residents. It’s not surprising that a youth of color was profiled, immediately assumed to be a threat by NUPD, and brutalized before a single question was asked about what he was carrying. Even without the BB gun, it’s statistically likely that NUPD would have harassed him just for passing through campus — its presence just amplified their already existing aggression.
NUPD and Northeastern have made it abundantly clear that Black and brown residents are not welcome in any way on or off campus. But universities don’t need to act this way, profiting off the communities they reside in while violently excluding the people of those neighborhoods. While true justice would immediately end the ceaseless expansion, Northeastern must first pay their PILOT contribution in full. They must create affordable housing to prevent forcing students off-campus.
Northeastern must comply with the demands set forth by organizers and correct their policies. NUPD must be defunded and disarmed. As a private force, they commit the exact same crimes as BPD with even less scrutiny. Both act with similar impunity, with no real process of holding them to the very laws they claim to enforce. That must change. Justice for this child would be a proper start.