“Don’t ask questions!” he roared. “Everybody get down! I said get down and don’t say a word!”
This Friday, two disgraceful acts marred Elevate Lounge. One disgrace fell on the shoulders of a dozen ruthless New Haven police officers; the other, on 300 passive Yale students.
The story unfolded simply enough: At about 12:50 a.m., 300 Yale students were present inside the club for a private social event. In barged a throng of black-clad police officers, SWAT men with two-foot guns, and a handful of others in polyester jackets emblazoned with the words “Liquor Agent.” About 40 minutes later, after having successfully intimidated everyone to the ground with thunderous bellowing, blinding beams of light and heavy stomps, the officers collected their helpless herd into a single file for ID checks and Breathalyzer tests. One guy made a smartass comment. The next moment, there was a burst of electric white light: he had been tased. The shock sent his body into convulsions; when the officers saw this, they pounced. Six officers beat him to the floor, the electric light bursting repeatedly as they pounded him concurrently with their fists for a full minute.
He had been wearing a silver chain and when they dragged away his twisted figure, the chain remained strewn on the dance floor, illuminated by a swirling light from above. An officer scooped up the chain and left the scene, and it was as though nothing had happened. “Eyes forward! Everybody, get your eyes forward!”
The fact that the raid unfolded in so needlessly violent a manner is appalling enough. Yet the fact that it happened in the presence of 300 Yale students makes it that much more appalling, not because, as Yale students, we should be exempt from the law, but because we bill ourselves as enlightened defenders of justice.
At Yale, we think highly of ourselves because we believe what they’ve told us: that we’re the best and the brightest and that with our bountiful gifts we will save the world. But on Friday one of our own was pummeled to the floor with no just cause and we just watched him. What good is our elite education if, when faced with grave injustice before our very eyes, we are paralyzed? Can it be that we are so gifted that our actions can only come in the form of words, that we must wait until we are many times removed from a situation to make it right?
“Don’t ask questions!” he demanded. And we didn’t.
The shame of our collective inaction does not overshadow the vile actions of the NHPD. As citizens of a free society, we expect that when we enter the public sphere we will be kept safe. When the stated purpose of a police operation (in this case, Operation Nightlife) is to intimidate non-violent students into submission, the people who are supposed to protect us from fear become the people who perpetuate it.
Anybody who was present during the attack can attest that when the tased student, Jordan Jefferson ’13, was writhing on the ground, powerless to move, ruthlessly assaulted by the purported defenders of his safety, what was witnessed was not justice but gross abuse of power.
And we were not completely helpless to fight back. Something can always, and must always, be done when we witness something that is wrong, whether it be before our eyes or many miles away. To absolve themselves of inaction Friday night, people will say, and have said, “What could we have done? They were powerful and we were not.” Such a thought is dangerous and self-defeating. Really, would the NHPD have tased 300 Yale students if, in the face of such abuse, we had all refused to comply? Could we not have banded together and reacted as intelligent people do when wicked forces encroach upon their basic human rights?
But the facts remain. Friday night has already withered away and an injustice has been allowed to take root.
As a community of people who wish to see good in the world, we must be strong, and we must ensure that those people who we have allowed to be stronger than us use their strength for our wellbeing and safety.
We are Yale students, and it is our desire, our privilege and our duty to stand up for justice. On Friday, we did not stand up for justice. We should, and can, do better.
OpinionHernandez: Our failure at Elevate“Don’t ask questions!” he roared. “Everybody get down! I said get down and don’t say a word!”