A Monday afternoon protest on Cross Campus against the no-indictment in the shooting death of Michael Brown turned into a rousing call to students to fight for justice in the city that lies beyond Yale’s gates.
The protest began at 12:01 p.m. — the time at which Brown was shot — when students across campus walked out of classes, meals and other events to congregate on Cross Campus as part of the national Hands Up Walk Out event. More than 200 students, joined by more than a dozen city activists and several faculty members, participated in the rally, organized by the Black Student Alliance at Yale.
In a crowd outside Berkeley North Court, protesters silently held their hands up for four-and-a-half minutes to commemorate the four and a half hours that Brown’s body lay on the street after he was killed.
“If Mike Brown had been white, the terms of engagement would have been different,” BSAY President Micah Jones ’16 told the crowd, arguing that Brown’s death was enabled by a social system that treats black people as other. “It is time to stop putting the victims on trial and instead to indict a system that devalues black and brown lives.”
Speakers noted that Brown is only the latest in a long list of unarmed black men killed at the hands of police officers — including Eric Garner in New York and Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Yonas Takele ’17 and Jamie Hobson ’17 also read a list of 10 demands recently issued by Ferguson Action, a group of organizers in Ferguson calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor for all deadly force cases and, more broadly, ending “over-policing and criminalization of poverty.”
From Cross Campus, roughly half the crowd marched down Elm Street to City Hall, blocking traffic as they chanted “Black lives matter!” and demanding justice in Ferguson, Mo., in New Haven and across the country. As they walked, many held their hands up in solidarity with the message of “Hands up, don’t shoot” that has become a rallying cry since Brown’s death.
“Darren Wilson do your time, being black is not a crime,” they repeated, referring to the police officer who killed Brown in August.
On the steps of City Hall, a series of speeches excoriated inequalities in the criminal justice system and called on students at Yale to engage in the world around them.
Protesters denounced the “Surge,” a police tactic recently adopted in New Haven that targets loitering, vandalism and other suspect activities.
“We demand that New Haven put an end to the surge, right here, right now,” Karleh Wilson ’16 told the crowd.
Speakers cautioned the crowd against treating Ferguson as unique, instead urging students and others to focus on the racism that exists in their own communities.
Christopher Taft, 48, a New Haven resident who is black, said he recently witnessed police conducting more than 10 stops in quick succession on Goffe Street, between Orchard and Webster Streets. All of those stopped, he said, were either black or Latino.
“I’ve been abused by the police, I’ve been beaten by the police, I’ve been tased by the police,” Taft said.
Norman Clement, a member of the national organization Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition, urged students to organize to combat police brutality and racial profiling, which he said goes on unnoticed in New Haven. Clement noted that a grand jury decision in the case of Garner, a New York man who died in a chokehold as police arrested him for the sale of untaxed cigarettes in July, is expected shortly.
“We need to be prepared to hit the streets again,” Clement said on the steps of City Hall, megaphone in hand.
Lex Barlowe ’17, social justice chair of BSAY, said in an email that the rally was part of a national call by Ferguson Action for students to respond to the Michael Brown case. Similar walkouts were scheduled for more than 30 other cities across the country.
Barlowe said the aim was to “disrupt business as usual,” ensuring that the events in Ferguson did not simply fade into the background as students returned to campus. She added that BSAY plans to continue discussion within Yale’s black community in order to determine further action.
Jones said she was pleased with the high turnout. One goal, she said, was to show students who were passionate about the cause that they were not alone and to empower them to work together. A second goal was to put a human face on issues of racial violence, she said.
“For students who aren’t as sympathetic … the purpose was for them to see black and brown people that they know and love care about this issue and … see that it’s not removed and separate from them,” she said.
American Studies professor Laura Barraclough, whose father was a police officer, said all people are affected by police brutality.
“I witnessed firsthand how racism shaped the way [my father] saw things,” she said. “As a professor, I think it’s important to educate students on the history of violence and also resistance. Our job is to help and support the students who are organizing this.”
The U.S. has a long, less than glorious history with racial violence, Stephen Pitti, master of Ezra Stiles College and professor of History and American Studies, said on Cross Campus.
“These events remind us that we still have a long way to go,” he said.
Joey Ye contributed reporting.