On Saturday afternoon, Yalies and New Haven residents donned hooded sweatshirts and marched from Dixwell Avenue to City Hall to protest the fatal shooting of unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin.
The march, which was organized by the Black Student Alliance at Yale (BSAY) and co-sponsored by other activist groups from Yale, New Haven and elsewhere in the state, aimed to raise awareness about racial profiling and the need for unity among local groups taking steps to combat it. Called “Hoodies Up New Haven,” the march and subsequent rally at City Hall commemorated Martin, a 17-year-old high school student who was shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26 while walking home from a convenience store wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Echoing nationwide demands for Zimmerman’s arrest and “an end to racial profiling,” Saturday’s march hoped to promote an additional message: that Yale and New Haven must join forces to address local problems of discrimination.
“This is not a problem just for the black community,” said Nia Holston ’14, political action chair of BSAY and an organizer of the march. “[Racial profiling] is something that affects all of us.”
Holston said the tragedy in Florida has prompted BSAY to work toward calling attention to racial profiling in New Haven and become more involved in social causes within the city. Holston said she came up with the idea for a march and rally after a BSAY-hosted discussion about Trayvon Martin’s death and racial profiling last Tuesday. BSAY worked with numerous other activist groups both from Yale and beyond, including several NAACP chapters, to plan the march. Holston also enlisted the support of local community organizers such as Rev. Scott Marks, who led marchers from the Q House in Dixwell to the New Haven Green, and Barbara Fair, who introduced each speaker at the ensuing rally on the steps of City Hall.
Holston said organizers chose to gather at the Q House, a former community center, rather than an on-campus location, to ensure that Saturday’s event was “a New Haven march, not a Yale march.”
In total, over 400 people attended the rally, Holston said, of which only a quarter were Yale students. A small group of Washington, D.C., natives, including T-shirt vendor Thaddeus Jackson, who had attended another march for Trayvon Martin earlier that morning in Hartford, said they have been “following the Trayvon Movement” across the country for the past few weeks.
Still, Yale’s presence at the protest was prominent, and several student groups used public excitement about the event as an opportunity for advocacy.
The Yale College Democrats and MEChA de Yale, a student group that seeks to “promote Chicano empowerment” through education and political activism, teamed up to collect signatures for a petition demanding that the city “take an active stance against racial profiling.” The petition called for an increase in police officer walking beats, “more curricula about racial profiling and community relations” in police training programs and ongoing discussion about relations between the community and the New Haven Police Department. By the end of the day, MEChA moderator Diana Enriquez ’13 said, the petition had 264 signatures. Enriquez added that although calling attention to racial profiling with a march is important, “it should never end there.”
Dems President Zak Newman ’13 agreed, and cited the importance of local events like Saturday’s protest in initiating conversations about race among people with different backgrounds.
Will McPherson ’15, one of 40 “volunteer marshals” at the events, said he attended the march because, “as a white male who’s not profiled,” he felt the need to “support my friends who shouldn’t have to live through this.” In his speech at the rally, BSAY President Joshua Penny ’13 addressed those who assume that college students are “bandwagoners, quick to repost a status on Facebook” but unwilling to take real action.
“Do not underestimate my generation,” he told the diverse crowd gathered on the steps of City Hall. “Don’t underestimate our strategy, and don’t underestimate our tools,” Penny continued, looking out over scores of painted signs.
Marks, who is also a co-founder of the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, a progressive social policy advocacy organization, commended BSAY organizers and Yalies who attended the protest.
“[The Yale administration] would like [students] to stay inside of the ivory towers, but they’re in this community fighting,” he said in his speech.
A Florida grand jury is scheduled to review the Trayvon Martin case on April 10.