Hundreds of New Haven residents held candles and posters aloft on Wednesday, demanding an end to drug dealing and violence on Rosette Street.
Led by community organizers from the Amistad Catholic Workers House and Elm City Congregations Organized, the procession circled in front of two different houses which neighbors say serve as home bases for drug dealers and rival gang factions.
“To the people who deal drugs or use guns on this street: we are making an appeal to you to stop or move out!” Amistad director Mark Coveille told the crowd, which he estimated was over 300 strong. Carrying posters with slogans such as “Keep our neighborhood safe!” and “Peace Not Violence,” protesters chanted their demands in unison: freedom from drugs and safe streets. When Coveille, talking over a loudspeaker, addressed the drug dealers by name, the refrain grew more aggressive, and marchers shouted “Leave!” with interspersed calls of “Now” and “Go!”
Organizers said the protest was spurred by a shooting on Oct. 29 that broke a window in Coveille’s second-floor apartment at the Amistad house. Coveille’s newborn son was sleeping in an adjacent room.
Another Amistad worker, Reggie Hutchins, said before the action began that he and others had tried to broker a peace with their neighbors, but the drug dealers did not heed the call. “We try to keep the neighborhood clean and they just tear it up,” his wife Miranda Hutchins said.
The grievances cited were manifold: In addition to the gunshots and violence, organizers said the drug dealers bring broken bottles, trash, public urination, acts of vandalism, and loud noise to the street. Amistad and ECCO workers say that neighbors have been slow to take a stand against the perpetrators out of fear of retaliation. Wednesday’s march, which began at nearby Truman School, was intended to show a long-term commitment to supporting those who stand up to drug dealers.
Amistad is one of ECCO’s 18 member institutions. Pat Spear, ECCO’s lead organizer, said ECCO-affiliated institutions lent their support to Amistad’s campaign of “direct, nonviolent protest” as part of their ongoing effort to address common problems throughout the city.
A handful of Yale students attended the vigil. Erin Scharff ’04, who has worked for ECCO in the past, said she came to support the organization.
“ECCO is an organization that helps and demands that people stand up for their neighborhood, and stand up in a big way so that people from all over New Haven get involved,” Scharff said.
Amistad’s appeal to ECCO for support did succeed in getting the attention of the city. Andrew Rizzo, executive director of the Livable City Initiative– a city housing agency responsible for enforcing building code violations like those complained of on Rosette Street — said he attended the march to show LCI’s commitment to the neighborhood. “If this many people are willing to come out — LCI will come and support them,” he said. “They’ll see a difference.”
But at least one neighbor said he wanted assurance that no innocent bystanders would be caught in the net laid for the drug dealers. Nero Williams, who lives at 215 Rosette St., one of the houses towards which the protesters directed their shouts, said that in September police broke down his door, ransacked his apartment, and handcuffed him and other family members. Taking the microphone to address police directly, he said, “If you are going to do your job, please do it right.”