Although thousands of demonstrators crowded areas of campus to cheer and protest Chinese President Hu Jintao last Friday, Yale officials said security precautions for the event went off without a hitch.
University Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith said no major security problems occurred during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Yale on Friday, calling law enforcement’s execution of security plans “perfect.” Still, students involved in protests during the event said that at times they found the University’s security policy unclear.
Highsmith praised both federal and local authorities, who she said spent weeks developing comprehensive security plans that could both ensure Hu’s safety and guarantee freedom of expression for protesters.
“I felt very proud of Yale University and the way diverse points of view were able to be expressed peacefully and constructively,” she said. “I think it can serve as a model for the rest of the world.”
The demonstrations that occurred were largely peaceful and posed no security threat to Hu, Highsmith said. As Hu’s motorcade made its way to campus around 11 a.m., demonstrators held signs both supporting and protesting the Chinese government.
But some students said they found it difficult to navigate the protests.
“The protest [was] peaceful but rude,” said Social Justice Network member Charles Alvarez ’09, who protested during Hu’s visit. “We [were] pushed around quite a bit.”
One group of students who tried to chalk messages on the ground outside Sprague Hall the night before Hu’s speech said they encountered problems with the Yale Police Department.
“The YPD officer who was there actually pulled us off the ground where we were writing and pulled us away,” said Edwin Everhart ’09, co-coordinator for the Yale chapter of Amnesty International. “Talking to them, we got a lot of contradicting answers about when and where we could chalk.”
Thomas Frampton ’06, one of the chalkers, said one YPD officer initially told the group they were allowed to chalk on Beinecke Plaza and in other places, but a YPD lieutenant later told them to stop.
YPD officials declined to comment on the incident Sunday night.
Highsmith said that while she had not heard of the incident on Beinecke Plaza, chalkers who were trying to use the sidewalks in front of Sprague were asked to move to another location for both logistical and security concerns. Highsmith said YPD officers did their best to balance security concerns with students’ right to free expression. After approaching the students chalking in front of Sprague, she said, YPD officers assisted them in finding an alternate location to communicate their message. Highsmith said that to the best of her knowledge, no clashes occurred between protesters and any of the law enforcement agencies. Any scuffles that did occur, she said, were minor and probably happened among the protesters themselves.
Many protesters, some of whom were from out-of-state, moved beyond areas that authorities specifically designated for protests. Although Old Campus and the New Haven Green were the only protest sites specifically designated by the University and police officials, protests broke out closer to Sprague Hall at the intersection of Temple and Wall streets, at Wall and York streets, and in front of Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall.
Some students said they were surprised that more students were not involved with the protests. Despite the University’s decision to allow Old Campus to be used as a protest space, the area was virtually empty during most of the day.
“I was expecting there to be quite a large crowd, but I had a 10:30 a.m. class and on my way there and back, there was nobody,” Chris Baker ’09 said. “I saw protests on the streets, but there were very few students involved. They looked like they were just trying to go to class.”
Everhart said he thinks the low student turnout at the protest was due in large part to the University’s decision not to cancel classes and to a lack of interest within the activist community.
As the Chinese head of state, Hu was given the same amount of security President George W. Bush ’68 would receive if he came to campus, Highsmith said. The Secret Service, Connecticut State Police, U.S. State Department, the New Haven Police Department and the YPD were all involved in ensuring Hu’s safety. Highsmith said the Chinese equivalent of the Secret Service also accompanied Hu on his visit.