Just over a year ago, something like hell was descending on my city. It was the week of the G20 Summit, and as the leaders of the modern world shuttled between their meetings and dinners, Pittsburgh’s streets became the surreal location of numerous clashes between protestors and masked, armored police who answered these popular manifestations of dissent with batons, teargas canisters and sonic crowd-dispersal machines. These were the type of scenes I and my whole generation had seen on film footage from decades before; this was the kind of violence that happened elsewhere in the world where autocratic rule and retaliation was the norm. As surprised and perturbed as I was at these clashes, and although acquaintances of mine were firsthand witnesses to the turmoil, I maintained a smug feeling of aloofness. I was out of town during the G20, and from a distance it was easy to write off the protestors as provocateurs and troublemakers.
In January, a group of plainclothes police officers viciously assaulted and arrested Jordan Miles, a classmate I had known since middle school, for being the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pictures of his swollen, unrecognizable face gained national media attention as the symbol of yet another example of superfluous police violence. This was different. I had played violin to Jordan’s viola in our middle school orchestra and saw him just days before his ruthless beating. At a meeting of the Pittsburgh City Council, I watched as one community member after another gave the same impassioned speech demanding accountability on the part of the Police Department and justice for Jordan. Still, I remained silent, the nagging feeling that this wasn’t my fight keeping me from taking the podium myself.
This past Saturday, I woke up to news that the night before, New Haven Police, armed with assault rifles, had raided the Morse-Stiles Screw in a massive display of force ending with five arrests, one student subdued with a Taser and one hospitalized. I have been part of the Yale community for just over a month, and I know a relatively few people here, but I was enraged to an extent that I was not during the G20 or Jordan’s ordeal. Why, I asked myself, did I feel differently? I immediately contacted a good friend of mine who was involved with independent media outlets in Pittsburgh during the G20 and the Jordan Miles incident. Her reaction: “Bet some rich white parents [are] gonna be pissed!”
Is that what it boils down to, a righteous anger that comes only when one’s “own” are victimized? I hope not, but I am still left feeling powerless and confused not only at this specter of police brutality that I cannot seem to escape, but as to how we, as Yale students, ought to respond to last weekend’s events. How can we, privileged in just attending this prestigious University, if nothing else, play the victims when abuses of police power generally take place away from Ivy League campuses? Does this make our concerns, our complaints, and our resulting insecurity illegitimate and unwarranted?
This is an issue that clearly brings about more questions than it does answers, but personal rumination is not what brings about change. If there are to be marches, I will march, even though I was not in Pittsburgh during the G20, or at Jordan Miles’s side as he was attacked, or even at Elevate on Friday night. But I will not be demonstrating as an angry victim, nor as a college student attempting to assuage his white guilt, but as a person who is simply fed up with seeing kids beat up by the police; as a person, student and citizen demanding accountability and respect for all.