Harvard University police have closed their two-month investigation of a mystifying “hate crime” on campus without managing to find a perpetrator.
On Nov. 19 of 2015, Harvard Law School students arrived at Wasserstein Hall and were surprised to discover small pieces of black tape placed over the portraits of most of the school’s black faculty members. The act was almost immediately denounced as an anti-black hate crime intended to intimidate black students at Harvard Law School. Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow hosted a meeting the same day in which she claimed racism was a “serious problem” on campus.
Suspiciously, the tape used to deface the portraits happened to be identical to tape used that same day by members of the protest group Royall Must Fall (RMF), which wants Harvard to replace its school seal because it is based on the coat of arms of a slaveholding family. Royall Must Fall had taped over pictures of Harvard’s seal in the same building, and claimed their tape was stolen in order to cover the portraits. But RMF’s own protest was discovered the same morning as the taped-over portraits. Going by RMF’s narrative, the supposed racist perpetrator would have been retaliating against a protest that only a few people knew existed at the time, most if not all of them within RMF’s own ranks.
Now, police and school officials say the final truth may never be known. In an email to The Harvard Crimson, Harvard police spokesman Steven Catalano said a lack of security camera coverage in the area had forced police to rely on traditional forensic methods, which were unable to pinpoint a perpetrator.
“After pursuing these avenues, they were unable to identify the person or persons responsible for placing the tape on the portraits, or to determine the motivation for these acts,” Catalano said.
Alexander Clayborne, a student leader of RMF, wasn’t terribly upset by the police’s failure to catch a perpetrator, saying the incident was just a small part of a bigger issue.
“Racism on campus is the actual perpetrator,” Clayborne told The Harvard Crimson. “While it would have been nice to catch the guilty party, until the University addresses its systemic racism, incidents like this are just going to keep happening.”
Whoever is actually responsible for the tape stunt, it appears to have greatly helped Royall Must Fall. Just days after the tape was discovered, Minow assembled a committee to assess the school seal and whether it should be changed. The committee is set to issue its recommendations in March.
Harvard also plans to install new security cameras in Wasserstein Hall so that future acts of vandalism in the building will be easier to investigate.
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