On Saturday, about 15 students and 60 community activists flooded the street leading up to New Haven Police Department headquarters on Union Avenue toting signs and chanting to protest allegations ofpolice brutality in the Elm City.
Over 75 representatives of 20 community groups carried signs such as “Give My Phone Back” and “No Police State,” and chanted “Whose streets? Our streets” as they marched from City Hall to the NHPD via College Street, Chapel Street and Union Avenue for one and a half hours. The event press release, distributed by Megan Fountain, member of Citizens for Policing Reform, a group started two weeks ago by Yale students,said there were three main goals for the march: an end to police brutality, the implementation of an independent civilian review board and affirmation of citizens’ right to record their interactions with police on video.
Speakers at events preceding and following the march alleged that the New Haven police have become the “worst villain” in the community, and civil rights attorney Michael Jefferson said Mayor John DeStefano Jr. was at fault for the alleged misconduct.
For Jefferson, who spoke immediately before the march at City Hall, the problem goes to the highest levels of New Haven government.
“The accountability begins right here with Mayor John DeStefano. He’s the problem,” Jefferson said. “John DeStefano must go. You cannot have change while he’s at the helm.”
Barbara Fair, member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, expressed frustration with the police unions and their power to demand too much leeway in what is acceptable police conduct to the various communities in the metropolitan area.
“We live in a state and country that does not embrace minorities,” she said. “I don’t care what ethnic group they are, police officers can be a part of us, not against us.”
Once the opening speeches concluded, protesters began their march down College Street and onto Chapel, chanting, “From the Hill to the ’Ville to City Hall, police brutality affects us all.”
About a dozen students were present at the protest, including Steve Winter ’11, one of the students arrested early on Oct. 2 during the NHPD’s raid on the Morse-Stiles Screw at Elevate Lounge.
Shelton Tucker, a local community organizer for My Brother’s Keeper, a New Haven social justice group, and Fair’s son, said no single group has taken responsibility for organizing for Saturday’s march. There have been several groups focused on changing the way New Haven police interact with the community, he said, but 20 groups came together to support the issue and capitalize on the media attention from the Oct. 2 raid on Elevate.
All official complaints of police behavior have gone to the NHPD internal investigations office, said Lieutenant Petisia Adger, one of the officers monitoring the rally.
“We will correct the issues,” she said. “The chief [Frank Limon] wants us to work with the community.”
Although the struggle against perceived police brutality began many years ago for some of these groups, many Yale students had not thought about this issue until the raid, Winter said.
This raid, part of Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s “Operation Nightlife” initiative to curb violence in the downtown area, resulted in five student arrests and over 30 official complaints of excessive police force.
“It was absolutely police brutality,” said Danny Zelaya ’13 Sunday morning after he witnessed the raid.
Of the twenty students interviewed since the raid, a majority of their complaints have centered on the police using SWAT gear and shouting obscenities at the students, a lack of explanation about the cause of the raid, the nature of the student arrests and questions surrounding the tasing of Jordan Jefferson ’13.
In addition to these questions, the police-imposed restriction against cell phone use has been a central issue in the Yale and community discussions since the raid.
Although both DeStefano and the NHPD have recently released statements saying that citizens are allowed to use cell phones and other devices to video record the actions of police officers, at least two students were arrested after using their cell phones during the raid.
During the second half of Saturday’s rally in front of the police station, one of the speakers told the assembly to hold up their cell phones and yelled, “New Haven police, look around, and get used to it.”
Community leaders who took part in the rally said they were pleased with the day’s results.
Marco Castillo, a lead organizer for Unidad Latina en Acción, said the protesters achieved what they came for by “demonstrating enough power and pressure that something will happen.”
Lieutenant Tony Duff, another of the NHPD officers assigned to monitor the march, said it is unfortunate to hear allegations against the police, but the role of an officer is to take a neutral stance when dealing with protests.
There are no current plans for another march.
Correction: October 26, 2010
An earlier version of this article misnamed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.