WEBN speaks with Michelle Wu about arrests at Emerson College

Courtesy of Creative Commons

By Emma Siebold and Hongyi Ji

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu says the arrest of 118 protestors at Emerson College early Thursday morning was due to safety concerns, not the protest itself. Wu also stated law enforcement was needed to ensure safety and to remove fire hazards. 

“The public safety situation was growing. The risks to public safety and health were growing, and the city needed to ensure that the wellbeing and safety of all of our residents is always there,” Wu said. 

Listen to the audio recording.

Wu continued that the protests were between the school and its students and had hoped the city would not need to be involved. 

“There were numerous days of working with school officials and communicating through the school and directly with the organizers on the ground that there was no issue with protesting, there was no issue with people gathering or being there 24 hours a day,” Wu said. “In that space, it was just about the fire hazards and the public health and safety hazard from the continued obstruction with tents. And so that was communicated.”

The mayor was also asked about the level of force used by police during a tree-planting ceremony in East Boston. She said her office is reviewing thousands of hours of police body camera footage and had no timeline of when the review would be complete.

Wu said that it is the city’s job to ensure safety for all “even if the choice was either to remove the obstructions or face the consequences and face the need for the tents to be removed by force.” 

“At the end of the day, it seems that most of the charges were not related at all to the tents or the hazards, but it became a situation with other charges related to the interactions between officers and students,” Wu said. “Some of the images I’ve seen of students who were on the ground, it’s painful to watch.” 

Wu also spoke about the use of police force in demonstrations at Northeastern University. 

The difference is that the location where Emerson students were gathered is a public right of way, that is the way to access the Massachusetts Department of Transportation building and other public buildings,” Wu said. “Northeastern’s campus is not a public right of way. It’s their school campus and their property. So in this case, it is entirely the jurisdiction of the school and therefore campus police.” 

When asked about concerns over student suppression, Wu said the city has a long history of protests and demonstrations, and the city is charged with ensuring that they are within “parameters for safety for everyone and health.” 

“We’ve been in touch with as many of the local college and university presidents as we can just to understand what their perspectives are and what their needs are,” Wu said. “Protests are demonstrations and exercising First Amendment rights are very important and it is the job of our public safety officials to make sure that can happen safely.” 

WEBN reached out to President Jay Bernhardt for his reaction to the Mayor’s comments and has not received a response.