Riding on the tails of the Aug. 19 Ferguson protest on Yale’s campus, approximately 60 New Haven activists and Yalies rallied in the rain last Wednesday to protest police brutality.
Protesters held signs and chanted on the steps of City Hall before marching to the New Haven Police Department. Once the protesters reached the department, they tied red ribbons to the railings in front of the building. Each ribbon read the name of one person who had been affected by police violence.
The rally was organized as a part of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network’s 19th annual Protest Against Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. Wednesday’s rally drew members from the Black Student Alliance at Yale, MEChA, the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project, as well as several New Haven-based activism groups. The gathering also drew several speakers involved in issues related to police brutality in the Elm City, including Emma Jones, an activist dedicated to passing laws to protect community members in the wake of Jones’ son death.
Although the rally protested both national and local issues surrounding the police, protesters did not reach out to the New Haven Police, said Fabian Fernandez ’15, one of the rally organizers. According to Fernandez, the issues that the protest addressed cannot be solved through small reforms within the police department.
“There has been no direct communication with the NHPD primarily because we disagree with the system,” Fernandez said. “It’s not that the system needs to be reformed, it’s that it needs to be taken down.”
According to rally organizer Ifeanyi Awachie ’14, the purpose of the protest was to raise awareness about minority groups’ issues with the police. Awachie said that while the rally placed more focus on issues surrounding African-Americans, speakers also pointed to issues concerning the LGBTQ and Native American communities.
“What we accomplished through the rally was exposing the fact that New Haven community members are upset about police brutality,” Awachie said.
NHPD Chief Dean Esserman acknowledged that racial profiling has existed for a long time in the American police force in an Oct. 13 talk with the Yale College Democrats. Esserman added that the discriminatory actions of some officers do not represent the attitudes of the entire police force.
Awachie added that, although the protesters did not directly contact the police, the visual demonstrations and chants added New Haven to the list of cities participating in the national day of protest.
Members of YUPP echoed Awachie’s statement.
“One of the people that spoke said that she marched in every single kind of weather,” said YUPP member Timiebi Souza-Okpofabri ’17. “The point was that we had a presence — even in the worst conditions, we had a point to make.”
The rally also provided an opportunity for several of Yale’s political activism groups to collaborate on a project, Fernandez said.
MEChA used Wednesday’s rally to draw attention to police brutality and mass deportation against the New Haven’s Latina community and connect with members of other organizations, said MEChA moderator Evelyn Nunez ’15. Outside of the rally, MEChA had been working with the Unidad Latina en Accion on specific cases of police brutality.
The day of protest happens every year in New Haven, provided that there are people available to organize it, Fernandez said.
“I think it’s important for the protest to happen annually because it shows that while specific cases of police brutality may be closed, this is still an ongoing struggle,” said BSAY Social Justice Chair Alexandra Barlowe ’17. “Of course it’s more important this year, given Ferguson, for other cities to show their support.”
The Stop Mass Incarceration Network organizes rallies in over 70 cities nationwide as a part of the Alliance for Global Justice — a social justice organization that focuses on areas such as militarism and economic justice.