Over the past week, the New Haven Police Department has made an aggressive, but understandable effort with “Operation Nightlife” to respond to the recent upswing in violence in the downtown entertainment district. What is disturbing is that, on Friday, a task force created to fight violence in the area became the prime perpetrator of violence for miles around. The NHPD raid on Elevate Friday night was, at best, questionable, and at worst, vindictive brutality. The University must press the city to investigate the raid and ensure that a similar breach does not happen again.
While we do not know all the information regarding the raid, what we have learned thus far from the NHPD has failed to justify it. The task force chose to investigate two other institutions before targeting the party at Elevate. Placing such a low priority on the Yalies raided, beaten, and tasered at Elevate suggests that they did not consider the party a grave security threat in the first place. This makes sense given the nature of the event — a Yale-sponsored function attended solely by Yale students and completely contained within a single club. The task force should be focusing on its primary mission: to combat street-violence in the entertainment district, not cracking down on underage drinking.
Or perhaps it’s that the task force is taking the “combating” element of its mission a bit too literally. Storming a club with what, according to some attendees, was a “SWAT team” is a wildly excessive response. Given how they responded to the relatively minor issue of potential underage drinking, I am curious to see how the police respond when there is actually a real threat of violence. The NHPD must provide more adequate justifications for beating and tasing a student than his being “uncooperative during the raid.” Force should only be used in these raids to the extent that it is absolutely necessary to subdue a belligerent person. Having several officers tackle a student is already more than sufficient force; in itself, it could constitute brutality. The burden of proof should fall on the NHPD; they must prove, beyond a doubt, that the amount of force used in the raid was justified.
Perhaps the most questionable action of the NHPD task force was their effort to prevent anyone from taping or recording the raid. They even tried to hunt down and force students who had been recording it to delete their tapes. Although the video already uploaded to the Internet proves they were, luckly, not entirely successful in erasing the evidence, the tactic alone smacks of authoritarianism: an unacceptable tactic for a police force whose job is to protect, not harass, citizens. If the measures taken by the NHPD were, in fact, necessary, then they need not fear videocameras.
This is by no means a wholesale condemnation of the NHPD, who face the difficult task of keeping New Haven’s streets safe. However, transgressions committed by certain units such as the one that raided Elevate must not be allowed to occur without transparency and accountability. The police involved in the raid should have the opportunity to further explain their side of the story, but they should not be let off without a thorough investigation into their actions.
Another raid on a party of peaceful college students, minding their own business, cannot happen. The city owes it to the people of New Haven to conduct a proper investigation and to bring those who violated police procedure to justice.