Ben-Meir: Putting Elevate in perspective

Since word first broke of Friday’s raid at Elevate, the topic has dominated our campus conversation. Charges of police brutality contend with more cautious and conciliatory claims. With this in mind, we must be conscious of the implications of our conversation, and not let our reactions to the raid go to waste, or worse, to go sour.

Instead, we must recognize that the events of Friday night were all too typical for our city, and that this is the real problem. What we are condemning as police brutality is in fact little more than urban reality, which is all too often the same thing. It is this harsh reality we must contend with and seek to change, rather than contenting ourselves with restoring the artificial distance between our community and greater New Haven.

The key point to remember is that the students at Elevate were treated with common, rather than exceptional, harshness. Our response must not be to demand an apology from the police for treating Yale students like average New Haven residents, dragging us down from our ivory tower into the rainy streets of the city. Such a reaction validates the worst preconceptions about our school and its students. It accomplishes nothing beyond proving our arrogance and sense of entitlement; an entitlement that our status as students does nothing to justify.

Our SAT scores do not make us special, and our acceptance letters did nothing to put us above the law. If we find the behavior of our police force unacceptable, we must do so as citizens of our city – not as visitors offended that that city dares to touch us. While we attend Yale, we are residents of New Haven; we can vote here, we work here, we shop here, and we live and sleep here for the better part of four years. The fact that we are here to study is no reason to expect or assume some elevated position over the world around us. Yale’s walls and gates may create a physical separation from the outside world, but they do not divide us from our identity as citizens of New Haven, and must not be allowed to enforce a psychological barrier between us and the city.

Instead, we must insist on a standard for New Haven as high as the one we have come to expect for ourselves. Outrage at being treated like average New Haven residents reeks of condescension, and can only be met with contempt and distrust from those citizens whose daily experience we would be condemning as unacceptable for ourselves. If we believe that the conduct of the police during the raid was excessive, we must insist that it would have been excessive even if it had not touched us a community. Anything else is nothing but unjustified and unjustifiable elitism.

When similar actions have occurred without directly touching Yale students, we have largely been silent. This is forgivable as a result of naivete, but not as a manifestation of apathy In the days and weeks ahead, we will have an opportunity to declare through our actions what the cause of our past silence has been.

The apathetic, when their comfort is encroached, make a lot of noise and then return to apathy. The naïve cannot return to ignorance, and therefore cannot return to inaction. If our complaint about Operation Nightlife is that Yale students were treated in a way that no person should be treated, we have to show that our concern extends beyond our gates and ourselves. If our complaint is merely that Yale students were treated in a way that no Yale student should be treated, we deserve nothing less than the resentment and anger that the other residents of our city will rightly render us in reply.

Correction: Thursday Oct. 7, 2010

Due to a workflow error, the News accidentally published a draft of Ilan Ben-Meir’s ’12 column “Putting Elevate in perspective.” This is final version of the column.


  • mc14

    It is surely perfectly reasonable that people should be particularly interested in issues which concern them directly. I’m sorry if the NHPD are, as it seems, routinely disproportionate and brutal in the exercising of their authority, but as a Yale student I want to ensure that our campus community is protected from their excesses. That’s what we have administrators for.

    New Haven doesn’t put Yale first, and I don’t see why Yale should put New Haven first.

  • DJ1

    Well put. I have seen alot of negative response from the regular new haven residents. Not because the Yalies DESERVE to be treated this way…but because this is the norm in new haven. It only comes to light when a group with enough power and motivation to do something about it steps forward. So I would recommend that in your complaints and meetings with city officials, that u not only demand fair treatment of Yalies, but fair treatment of all citizens who may find themselves in similar situations.

  • cwakefield2011

    thanks DJ1, you took the words out of my mouth. never mind the fact that many urban residents, particularly minorities, tend to deal with unfair treatment and singling out on a regular basis…because we’re yale students, we’re somehow supposed to be treated better than everyone else? give me a break. don’t give the rest of the world more fodder for the “spoiled brat” stereotype. im still incredibly pissed that the cops in question apparently didn’t know how to deal with a few smart-ass,unarmed students without tazing/ pummeling them, but we can’t afford to lose perspective of what happens in the real world.

  • gz2012

    Excellent article.
    mc14: The point here is that when a universal issues touches our community, it is irresponsible to respond in a way that defends us and only us. It would have been one think if Mr. Ben-Meir had written this opinion before anything happened to Yale, asking us to act out against police brutality. (That would be a separate debate.) But now that we’re responding to the issue, we have the responsibility to respond to it universally, and not just protect ourselves.

  • JSOBrien

    You’re very perceptive. You managed to tease out meaning from reflecting on your own feelings and behavior, and that’s both commendable and startling. Most people can’t, or won’t, do that.

    You’ve identified something behavioral psychologists have known for a very long time: Our willingness to act on others’ behalfs depends heavily on our ability to relate. If we don’t see a causal link that says to us, “There but for the grace of God go I” we tend to sit on our hands, allowing (sometimes) even the most egregious abuses to go unremarked. I take it you are not black and not from the same neighborhood as Jordan Miles. You couldn’t see yourself in his predicament, so though it made you uncomfortable, it didn’t cause you to want to take action. On the other hand, you can see yourself in the predicament Yale students found themselves in recently with the New Haven police. They are like you, presumably, and you are like them.

    On a mass basis, you’ve identified why the entire country can become furious when three Duke lacrosse players are falsely accused of rape, later winning complete absolution. None went to prison. They have certainly won, or will win, civil suits. They even got an extra year of eligibility, and an extra year of athletic scholarships to complete that eligibility. In Tulia, Texas, 40 black people (one in three of all black men in the town) were rounded up on the say so of a single, corrupt, free-lance lawman. He was demonstrated to be a perjurer again and again during trial, yet almost all of these people went to prison for a very long time on false charges. Ever heard of them? Ever hear of a national outcry to avenge them? Nope. White people can’t see themselves in those shoes, so they really don’t care all that much. That’s not a knock. That’s just human nature.

  • cyalie

    Another great piece, Ilan. Keep it up.

  • tiredOfTheNonsense

    ***”New Haven doesn’t put Yale first, and I don’t see why Yale should put New Haven first.”***

    Are you serious? What a remarkably childish and clueless statement… As someone who has lived here nearly 30 years, I can tell you that one of the first questions in any major policy decision I’ve seen in New Haven is the thought, explicit or implicit, “How will this effect Yale?”, which is only logical. Secondly… why should Yale put New Haven first? That sums up why there’s often so little sympathy from “us” when “you” cry the blues over some perceived injustice, nicely done. Sigh, how soon do you leave?

  • theantiyale

    These posts show the divide between perceptions: the HAVES and the HAVE NOTS. They also reveal a GENERATIONAL divide: MINE vs. YOURS. Only cwakefield2011 comes close to beginning to cross the bridge to the forty years of anger my generation experienced about police (ever hear the chant ***”Pigs off campus***”?) in America.

    See comments on *YDN* and *NYT* coverage today at [link text][1] “British Bobbys Not: Police in New Haven, U.S. of A”

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

  • Yale12

    Agupps, the police are not the law, the *law* is the law. They may enforce laws, but they still have to follow them, too.

    Yalies are “goddamn special” because not has a murder, or a shooting, or even a serious fight requiring police intervention broken out at one of our parties. So yeah, we should be exempt from

  • Saytan

    To be fair, Yale students were treated with a lot less harshness than normal in this case.

  • rr22

    i think it was pretty dang rude of NHPD to ruin a good party where almost nothing illegal was going on. i would say the same whether it was yale students or qpac students or random new haven residents. same principle applies. i dont think anyone was suggesting that the conduct of NHPD was too hard because we are yalies and deserve to be treated nicer than everyone else. we’re not THAT elitist in our mindset.

    i do, however, hesitate to criticize NHPD too much. we need them on our side to protect us, because the streets outside our little gated communities are really freaking dark and scary at night.

  • Saytan

    Hey rr2. I don’t know what gated community you’re talking about, but it’s not a bad idea. Maybe a 20ft wall around Yale topped with razor wire?

    The bottom line is this: it’s easier to hand out speeding tickets and patrol private Yale parties than to solve murders, rapes, and other violent crimes. It’s also a lot safer. You gotta consider that cops have families too. What happens to their families if they get hurt trying to stop a violent crime? Hence, the reason why they show up 1 hour after the danger has past.