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.

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