Yale and New Haven were disproportionately represented in Hartford yesterday.
About 20 Yalies and 60 other members of the New Haven community were among some 200 activists from across Connecticut who traveled to the state capital Wednesday, rallying in support of an “alternatives to incarceration” bill.
The “Rally for Prison and Sentencing Reform” was organized by a number of statewide criminal justice groups, including Yale’s Student Legal Action Movement. Activists traveled in vans and buses to Hartford, where the rally’s organizers secured a room in the legislative office building in which to meet. After listening to speakers from student groups and the NAACP, they marched underground to the state house where they met with legislators and made their case. Ik Ekunwe ’06, who has ties to community criminal justice activist groups like People Against Injustice and is a member of both SLAM and Critical Justice, a national prison abolitionist group, said the rally was a success.
“We made an impact in the way that we educated many people in preparation for the rally and we made it very clear to the legislators that their constituents are going to hold them accountable,” Ekunwe said. “The legislators know at this point that people aren’t sleeping through this bill.”
But Ekunwe added that she did not expect one rally to tremendously reform what she called the “prison-industrial complex.”
SLAM and other campus justice groups have been working over the past several months to educate students about the “alternatives to incarceration” bill, the “prison-industrial complex” and police brutality issues.
Josh Eidelson ’06, a protester who is not a member of SLAM but said he identifies with its goals and agenda, said it was crucial that change in the criminal justice system come soon.
“I went to the rally because we have a limited window of opportunity to push forward progressive change in a criminal justice system that is punitive, expensive and fails to rehab people,” Eidelson said. “It’s an important step in achieving a just criminal justice policy for New Haven and for Connecticut.
The activists said that they spent a lot of time speaking to State Rep. William Dyson, D-New Haven, about the bill.
Ekunwe said the questions she and the other activists presented hit hard.
“We questioned him on some of the votes he had made and why it is that 2,500 prisoners will still get shipped out of state whether the bill is passed or not,” she said.
Eidelson said he thought the activism –Êwhich included passing out pamphlets and press releases, as well as talking and arguing with representatives — made an impact and that the activists proved Dyson had some explaining to do.
“We effectively put him on the defensive about his record on the issues, which is not as progressive as the views of his constituents,” Eidelson said. “Marshaling pressure like we did today is part of the process of making him and other legislators accountable to their constituents.”
Eidelson said he was proud that Yale students cooperated with members of the New Haven community to help organize the rally and get people to turn out for it.
“I was glad that we as undergrads made a stand with members of the New Haven community to push for a criminal justice policy that serves the needs of our entire community,” Eidelson said.