News’ View: Punishment must suit the crime

Something is wrong when police action ends with dozens left crying and confused. Something is wrong when video recording shows police officers taunting: “Anybody else, who’s next?” Something is wrong when a college student is Tasered and beaten.

Through frantic texts, e-mails and phone calls over the weekend, we have learned of these wrongs early Saturday morning, when New Haven police, some in what appeared to be SWAT gear, and state liquor control agents raided the Morse-Stiles screw at Elevate.

We still do not fully know what happened at the club, but we do know that about a week ago, just before a Quinnipiac student was arrested for filming another arrest, he recorded a police officer swearing at and shoving him.

These actions have followed Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s announcement of “Operation Nightlife,” an initiative to curb violence in the downtown entertainment district. If these first two weeks are any indication of how the program will run, though, we have seen enough.

The reasons behind Operation Nightlife are legitimate. A fight among underage patrons in an overcrowded area led to yet another shooting two weeks ago. As such, city officials should be commended for taking action to compel club owners to prevent overcrowded clubs and underage drinking, both of which police have linked to the violence. We applaud them for trying to create a safe, calm downtown.

But sending officers equipped with assault rifles into a crowded, otherwise nonviolent party creates an atmosphere that is neither calm nor safe. Moreover, rather than make community members feel secure knowing police are on the streets, such action creates fear of the police themselves.

Aside from the fear they create, the Operation Nightlife task forces require significant sacrifice of city resources. On Saturday, for instance, a fight broke out less than a block from Elevate, which might have been prevented had some of the police at the party been outside.

The police presence was excessive. So we’re glad that the police do not plan to employ such a force every weekend. But considering the mission of Operation Nightlife, we question whether a dozen or so officers, assault rifles and dogs should be used in response to a tip of underage drinking at a college party.

In recent statements, police have attempted to justify the degree of police presence by using the fact that overcrowding at Elevate could have been dangerous. The club was filled far beyond capacity, something Elevate officials and members of the Ezra Stiles and Morse student activities committees should have worked harder to prevent.

But what was surely and, as it turned out, demonstrably much more dangerous was the excessive force of the police response. Using a task force to clear out a large, crowded party served only to aggravate the situation and punished all who happened to be there, instead of those responsible.

Perhaps our biggest worry is that in these past two weeks, we have begun to see a change in police demeanor. A City Hall mandate to crack down on nightlife does not give anyone the excuse to taunt bystanders or use force unless absolutely necessary.

Thus, as long as the form of Operation Nightlife that allowed for last weekend’s incident is in effect, we commend the University for reaching out to students who feel victimized. Still, we know that not all members of the New Haven community have the same resources we do, and we know that there were two other raids Saturday morning.

If the aggression seen at Elevate is the norm, it is obvious that Operation Nightlife is wrong for New Haven.


  • mc11

    I wasn’t present at Elevate when this occurred, but there is little doubt in my mind that the police force used that night was excessive. The title of this article is “Punishment must suit the crime,” but notably absent for it are two things 1) any recognition that some of the Yale students involved were committing crimes (albeit minor ones). Some were drinking underage, some were providing alcohol to minors, and some may have been in possession of drugs. It’s true, none of those justify the magnitude of the police response, but Yale students need to recognize that they often break the law, and sometimes may be subject to it. (I do not mean to imply that by breaking the aforementioned laws, Yalies should expect to be subject to Operation Nightlife-style law, only some law)

    2) any recommendation as to how the students affected can ensure that the punishment fits the crime. Too many publications and student-activists have created venues for people to share their stories, and too few of them are pushing students to file complaints with internal affairs. When submitting for a publication, Yalies have a tendency to over-dramatize their narratives, clouding, if not avoiding the truth (as evidenced by the first paragraph of this article, which repeats the term “something is wrong” for dramatic effect, while citing three events which could be the results of completely legitimate police action). If justice is to be exacted from this situation, all witnesses of the events that transpired at Elevate, no matter how minimal their experience, should be submitting their narratives to the official channels first, expanding on them for dramatic effect in publications later.

  • FailBoat

    I think the New Haven Police Department is a generally worthless organization and the video posted by the YDN makes me sick to watch. But this editorial is not the answer. The real question is not whether the police should carry guns, should use tasers, and generally be huge jerks. The question really should be whether a population of sometimes-delinquent but rarely-violent college students can coexist with an overburdened police force in a near-lawless urban environment.

    There has to be a distinction made between the university students of (Yale other New Haven universities) and the general population. These groups need to be treated differently by the police. To do otherwise is to risk alienating the most compliant demographic in the New Haven community. But Yalies need to remember that once they wander off campus – even to “sanctioned” events – they don’t get the privilege of dealing with the YPD anymore. New Haven is a real city. Herc and Carver are gonna crack some skulls.

  • Tanner

    I think the Police would rather be called for a double murder in Fair Haven than have to deal with a disturbance involving a College Event, especially when Yale students are involved. Let the School do what it wants and let Yale Police and Security deal with it. As soon as the police arrive visions suddendly its May 1970 or Tieneman Square. It always seems to end up with cries of brutality or “We felt vulnarable, the police where not protecting use.” Either way let the court precedings begin.

  • mc11

    @FailBoat: Law is law, profiling is illegal. Compliant people should be treated as compliant people, and violent people as violent people. The distinction follows from behavior not from demographic.

  • Goldie08

    @FailBoat – nice wire reference. When I heard about the raid I immediately thought about the show and how it changed my perspective towards the police. To them, everyone could be carrying a gun and the bar is located on a corner where a shooting recently occurred. The best thing a student can do is cooperate and while they may receive gruff treatment from the officers, complying with police orders ensures they don’t get tasered or wrestled to the ground, things the police do to preemptively protect themselves from harm. Anyone who counters my point by saying something like “the police knew it was a Yale party and that inherently reduces the possibility for gun violence” is nothing but an elitist shielded by the Yale bubble.

  • penny_lane

    I agree with the sentiment (I think?), but my goodness, who writes these? It was almost unreadable, laden as it was with qualifying statements (paragraphs!), and choppy due to excessive numbers of sentences (paragraphs!) beginning with conjunctions. It is embarrassing that even the editors of Yale’s most high-profile undergraduate publication have such poor compositional skills. I move that the News commission Matt Shaffer to write all future editorials.

    And FailBoat: Mega points for Wire reference, but we shouldn’t forget that Herc and Carver partook of their own fair share of illegal brutality (granted, against actual criminals). Real police-work can and should be done without excessive force. A more appropriate reference would have been Bunny Colvin’s anecdote about how brown-bagging beer cans when drinking on the sidewalk gave the police the freedom to look the other way and focus on real crime. Too bad the NHPD can’t take a leaf from his book…

  • Hieronymus’ Bosh

    “Something is wrong when police action ends with dozens left crying and confused.”

    Yes, and I fault the parents for that. The crying, I mean.

  • theantiyale

    Today’s *New York Times* features an article about excessive force and foul language used on Yale students by New Haven Police conducting a late night raid for liquor violations on a New Haven Night Club boastfully named “Elevate”, as if getting “higher” was the mission statement.

    I was amazed at the “wet-behind-the-ears” quality of the Yale students, not only in the *Times*’ report, but in the videos offered on *The Yale Daily News* website itself. It is as if the last fifty-years of current events in America had been erased and we were beginning over again fresh with this 20-year-old generation.

    “Police are brutal? UNBELIEVABLE”, the Yale students seem to stammer.

    This is the country where Ohio males in law enforcement uniforms murdered four unarmed white students on a University campus in May, 1970; where three weeks later in Mississippi, sheriffs murdered two black university students ; where in Los Angeles, in 1991, police beat the African American Rodney King unconscious after he was stopped for possible arrest; where in New York City police sodomized the Haitian, Abner Louima*, with a plunger handle in 1997.

    Why are Yale students so amazed that the police are “brutal”?

    Most American police officers and even National Guardsmen, have not had the luxury of a liberal arts college education which opens their eyes to the values of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. They are, by and large, inarticulate capsules of male hormones, trapped in bodies trained to respond with physical force, unable to express themselves in subordinate clauses but agile with grunts of profanity. Add to this combination the glamour of a uniform and badge and the “clubbiness” of belonging to a well honed group whose chief default is the “power” of armed weapons, and you have the recipe for brutality.

    C’mon Yale students. Open your eyes.

    Paul Keane

    M. Div. ‘80
    M.A., M.Ed.
    [link text][1]
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Abner Louima (b. 1966 in Thomassin, Haiti) is a Haitian who was assaulted, brutalized and forcibly sodomized with the handle of a bathroom plunger by New York City police officers after being arrested outside a Brooklyn nightclub in 1997.

    [1]: “The Anti-Yale”

  • theantiyale

    As a native of New Haven, I find it interesting that police “weapons” menacing Yale students are somehow more worthy of righteous indignation than police “weapons” menacing non-Yale New Haven residents. They are also more worthy of a quarter page article in *The New York Times* This is the same social elitism reflected in the fact that four WHITE students murdered by uniformed officers of the state at Kent State have been made historical ICONS (“Four Dead in Ohio”, Crosby, Still Nash and Young) but two BLACK students mudered three weeks later at Jackson State by uniformed officers of the town, have been totally abandoned by history and by journalists.
    Are we white folk being a bit “precious” here?