Hernandez: Our failure at Elevate

“Don’t ask questions!” he roared. “Everybody get down! I said get down and don’t say a word!”

This Friday, two disgraceful acts marred Elevate Lounge. One disgrace fell on the shoulders of a dozen ruthless New Haven police officers; the other, on 300 passive Yale students.

The story unfolded simply enough: At about 12:50 a.m., 300 Yale students were present inside the club for a private social event. In barged a throng of black-clad police officers, SWAT men with two-foot guns, and a handful of others in polyester jackets emblazoned with the words “Liquor Agent.” About 40 minutes later, after having successfully intimidated everyone to the ground with thunderous bellowing, blinding beams of light and heavy stomps, the officers collected their helpless herd into a single file for ID checks and Breathalyzer tests. One guy made a smartass comment. The next moment, there was a burst of electric white light: he had been tased. The shock sent his body into convulsions; when the officers saw this, they pounced. Six officers beat him to the floor, the electric light bursting repeatedly as they pounded him concurrently with their fists for a full minute.

He had been wearing a silver chain and when they dragged away his twisted figure, the chain remained strewn on the dance floor, illuminated by a swirling light from above. An officer scooped up the chain and left the scene, and it was as though nothing had happened. “Eyes forward! Everybody, get your eyes forward!”

The fact that the raid unfolded in so needlessly violent a manner is appalling enough. Yet the fact that it happened in the presence of 300 Yale students makes it that much more appalling, not because, as Yale students, we should be exempt from the law, but because we bill ourselves as enlightened defenders of justice.

At Yale, we think highly of ourselves because we believe what they’ve told us: that we’re the best and the brightest and that with our bountiful gifts we will save the world. But on Friday one of our own was pummeled to the floor with no just cause and we just watched him. What good is our elite education if, when faced with grave injustice before our very eyes, we are paralyzed? Can it be that we are so gifted that our actions can only come in the form of words, that we must wait until we are many times removed from a situation to make it right?

“Don’t ask questions!” he demanded. And we didn’t.

The shame of our collective inaction does not overshadow the vile actions of the NHPD. As citizens of a free society, we expect that when we enter the public sphere we will be kept safe. When the stated purpose of a police operation (in this case, Operation Nightlife) is to intimidate non-violent students into submission, the people who are supposed to protect us from fear become the people who perpetuate it.

Anybody who was present during the attack can attest that when the tased student, Jordan Jefferson ’13, was writhing on the ground, powerless to move, ruthlessly assaulted by the purported defenders of his safety, what was witnessed was not justice but gross abuse of power.

And we were not completely helpless to fight back. Something can always, and must always, be done when we witness something that is wrong, whether it be before our eyes or many miles away. To absolve themselves of inaction Friday night, people will say, and have said, “What could we have done? They were powerful and we were not.” Such a thought is dangerous and self-defeating. Really, would the NHPD have tased 300 Yale students if, in the face of such abuse, we had all refused to comply? Could we not have banded together and reacted as intelligent people do when wicked forces encroach upon their basic human rights?

But the facts remain. Friday night has already withered away and an injustice has been allowed to take root.

As a community of people who wish to see good in the world, we must be strong, and we must ensure that those people who we have allowed to be stronger than us use their strength for our wellbeing and safety.

We are Yale students, and it is our desire, our privilege and our duty to stand up for justice. On Friday, we did not stand up for justice. We should, and can, do better.

OpinionHernandez: Our failure at Elevate“Don’t ask questions!” he roared. “Everybody get down! I said get down and don’t say a word!”

Comments

  • Yale14

    > Yet the fact that it happened in the presence of 300 Yale students makes it that much more appalling, not because, as Yale students, we should be exempt from the law, but because we bill ourselves as enlightened defenders of justice. At Yale, we think highly of ourselves because we believe what they’ve told us: that we’re the best and the brightest and that with our bountiful gifts we will save the world.

    This is disgusting, and it’s exactly what’s wrong with Yale students. We’re just the same as everyone else – not better, not “enlightened defenders of justice,” and certainly not “the best and the brightest.”

  • waldo

    Rise up Yale students… rise up and fight the vicious, mean New Haven Police Officers who really wanted to come into Elevate so they could waste their time dealing with some smart-ass football player. That is, after all, what cops really love to do. Get real. First off, Rick, what are you getting at… that the entire group should have been non-compliant and what?? Left? Held a sit in? Caused a riot? What? I’m assuming you’re not advocating violence, but I’m not tracking. Bad things happen in life… and if Mr. Jefferson was truly abused then he has a great law-suit ahead of him with plenty of witnesses. But I doubt we’ll see that. And as much as I love being at Yale, articles like this do a good job of reminding me that many of “the best and the brightest (and so very humble)” are still just kids in an Ivory Tower, detached from the realities of they very city they live in. Welcome to New Haven.

  • Hieronymus’ Bosh

    Geez, this is SO last week. Suck it up and drive on, pussycats. “Rise up”; ha!

  • Redbob

    300 Yalies failed to defend one of their own against a horrible injustice – but they had no Leonidas to lead them, nor did they have any training in unarmed self-defense.
    Hernandez asks if the handful of cops/thugs could have resisted 300 students? The answer is “Undoubtedly!” and in all likelihood, without breaking a sweat: it’s what they’re trained to do. A bunch of soft academics would have been no more than canned meat for these guys.
    So, do you want to be able to defend yourselves? First you need to have the means: the training and if necessary, the weapons.
    Welcome to the real world.

  • Hieronymus’ Bosh

    Anyone prefer the writing (by both staff and commenters) at **[The Crimson][1]**?

    [1]: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2010/10/6/students-officers-police-yale/

  • Matthew Mitcheltree

    I’m with you, Yale14. This piece makes me really queazy, what with it invoking Yalie messiahship. The students did the right thing in complying at the time, and now they are doing the right thing by filing complaints. Yale is doing the right thing by seeking a formal investigation. And yeah, The Crimon’s article was far more responsible than the ones I’ve seen from this venue.

    Parenthetically, I’m always surprised by the extent to which Yale will come to the defense of students who, through their irresponsible actions, defame this institution of learning. Sometimes college strikes me as an overpriced summer camp.

  • pablum

    Right on, Yale14. I don’t know why Yale students buy into the marketing tripe; but, I guess they do.

  • wtf

    I did not rise up because I did not want to get arrested or Tasered. There comes a time when you just listen to what the police officers say because they have guns, as much as you feel that your rights are being violated; my life is more important to me than these virtues you espouse.

    The time to fight comes after, when no one is in danger of getting shot. Your idiotic rhetoric is a call to suicide.

    Next time there’s an armed raid at Elevate, I’ll gladly let you take the bullets for me.

  • tiredOfTheNonsense

    LOL… what a pompous, self impressed fool. As has been said earlier what should the students have done, rioted? As to remaining quiet, I hardly think they can be accused of that, as much as the crocodile tears annoy me at times. I’m amazed that your massively swollen head doesn’t obscure your view of the keyboard as you write. Great advice you’re passing out…

  • Branford11

    This is kind of dumb and poorly argued. I think Gonzalez does a way better job and actually offers some original insight http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2010/oct/06/gonzalez-speaking-to-power/

  • penny_lane

    This is embarrassingly melodramatic and poorly reasoned.

  • penny_lane

    Hieronymus: That editorial by the Crimson is far more well reasoned and well written than anything that has appeared in our own newspaper on the subject (in particular when compared with the News’s own editorial!). Step it up, Yale!

  • ezrastiles2011

    Ric, this is crazy and utterly self-aggrandizing. I was there on Friday night too, and most of the police violence occurred because students– particularly Jordan and Zach– DID decide to make the completely misguided decision to question them. Civil unrest is not the way to solve problems. The approach being taken by Stiles and Morse right now– that of a measured legal response and approach through the media and through the Yale administration– is not only bound to be more effective because it is not as fraught with emotions/power struggles, but is also far more likely to help our cause be seen as a legitimate one that is relevant to ALL, and not just relevant to a bunch of self-absorbed, spoiled Yalies who decided to stand up to the police because they felt some sort of entitlement to do so.

  • MinNYC

    I used to work in NYC nightclubs in the early eighties. Payoffs to the police and fire dept. were the norm and considered a cost of doing business. It sounds to me like the Elevate Club refused to pay off somebody. Or, a rival club that wants to put Elevate out of business could be behind it. Don’t think that this gross over reaction happened because the police were concerned with the public’s safety. Follow the dirty money trail. I’d bet anything the owner/management refused to play ball with the criminals and suffered the consequences along with the Yale students. This is how the club business was in NYC in the early eighties and I’d bet it’s not much different now in New Haven. If the police had their priorities straight, they’d be focused on the gangs, guns and drugs which are an epidemic in New Haven. A thorough investigation of the NH police by the FBI is needed.

  • waldo

    @ MinNYC!
    HAHAHA. Yeah, New Haven clubs are definitely the NYC clubs of the ’80′s… what? :) But I’m sure you’re right. NHPD supervisors and swat planned a raid because some crap club didn’t pay kickback to the new Chief. Sounds perfectly reasonable today (as it was in the good ol’ days).

  • theantiyale

    ” a dozen ruthless New Haven police officers”

    They aren’t “ruthless”: they’re dumb. We hire people who use their muscles rather than their minds to maintain order and then we complain that they do so. If you want to change police brutality in America, double all police salaries and require a B.A. in the LIBERAL ARTS not a bruising in the MARTIAL ARTS.

    PK

    See “British Bobbys Not: Police in New Haven, U.S. of A” [link text][1]

    [1]: http://theantiyale.blogspot.com “British Bobbys Not: Police in New Haven, U.S. of A”

  • Saytan

    Saying “don’t ask questions” is just a concise way of educating deluded Yale students about the police. If you talk back, fail to show I.D., don’t allow a pat down search for weapons, break the law, run away, or annoy an officer, you WILL be brutalized, shot, beaten, tasered, possibly tortured and charged with resisting arrest or assault on an officer (even or especially when untrue). This has been true for over 100 years.

    No one has ever gotten anywhere questioning injustice. The best one can hope for is to become fantastically wealthy and powerful, and to try to wield that power to protect yourself. With your Yale education, you are well on the road to becoming this kind of ubermensch. Good luck!