You’ve probably already heard about what happened at the Stiles/Morse Screw last Friday: The New Haven Police Department, in conjunction with the Connecticut State Liquor Control Board, shut down the dance and arrested five students. The violent and unexpected raid left many people angry and confused. But during this tense time, it’s important to keep a few points in mind.
The first and most important point is that Yale students and the NHPD ultimately want the same thing: a city where residents feel safe. We are not enemies, and no good can come of escalating town-gown tensions. However, the events of Friday night clearly demonstrate that there are problems with the behavior of all parties involved. The city’s crime-fighting strategy was unnecessarily violent and confrontational, and as a result, angry students resisted cooperating. Both sides have the ability and the responsibility to do better.
The police department and the Connecticut government need to change the way they fight underage drinking. Of the five student arrests made Friday night, only one was for illegal possession of alcohol by a minor. Four were directly caused by the NHPD’s poor tactics, to which I personally bore witness.
While waiting at the ticket booth during the raid, I saw the police physically and verbally assault two fellow students, both of whom were saying repeatedly that they would comply with orders. One was slammed against a wall, and one was shoved three times by an officer twice his size. The hatred in the officer’s face was shocking. In my three years of living in New Haven, I have never felt more unsafe.
The police have a dangerous job that occasionally puts them in life-threatening situations, but fighting underage drinking at a semiformal dance does not require brandishing automatic rifles. The NHPD’s current tactics are counterproductive and directly provoked the angry student reaction.
A few simple steps could have made Friday’s operation quick and painless. First, the police should have clearly stated the purpose of the raid to avoid panic and confusion. Second, officers should not have used profanity and verbal threats before students had a chance to comply with instructions. Finally, the police department should have warned their officers against inexcusable and unwarranted violence. And now, after the fact, an apology on behalf of the NHPD would be very much appreciated.
That said, students also have to accept responsibility. As participants in a police operation, we have the duty to comply with orders as best we can, even if an officer is rude. There is a time and place to stand up for yourself, but an organized police operation is not it. They’re trying to do their job, we’re trying to party, and the sooner we comply, the faster both things can happen.
Moreover, we need to channel our anger wisely. Protests and resentment can only further break down communication between students and the police. Instead, the Yale administration, student leaders and government officials need to decide on specific policies that will prevent events like Friday’s from occurring again. Instead of lashing out, we need to focus our response in a way that will effect change.
Finally, we should keep in mind that, while everyone is shaken by Friday night’s events, we are all safe. With a mature response that considers both immediate and long-term goals, this experience can ultimately be constructive. And on behalf of the student organizers, we’re sorry your Friday night was memorable in all the wrong ways. Trust me, we all left feeling a little screwed.