Updated: 7:09 p.m.
For four and a half minutes Friday afternoon, more than 750 students, professors and members of the Yale and New Haven communities lay on Wall Street in protest of recent decisions not to indict the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner. In a line that stretched from Yale Law School to New Haven courthouse, bodies lay as a witness to the #BlackLivesMatter movement sweeping the nation.
As part of the latest wave of protests at Yale and in New Haven, a group of law students planned the Die-In Demonstration after seeing similar actions at other universities and across the nation. When opening the demonstration, Jordan Bryant LAW ’15 told participants that they were standing in solidarity with protesters in cities like St. Louis, Chicago, New York and across the nation, adding that this is a conversation pertinent for Yale students also.
“We are protesting between two symbols,” she said. “The Yale Law School, [which is] supposed to produce lawyers who uphold equal justice under the law, and the courthouse where justice is supposed to be available to all people.”
After Bryant’s statement, participants began to join hands with each other and begin the walk from Yale Law School to the New Haven Courthouse, ushered by marshalls in coordination with New Haven Police Department. When the leaders reached the courthouse, demonstrators were asked to lie on the ground for four and half minutes, to signify the four and a half hours that Michael Brown was lying on the ground. After this time elapsed, protesters walked to the courthouse where Bryant led the crowd in chants of the names of black people that had been victims of police brutality.
Bryant, one of the organizers, asked members on the Facebook event not to dress in monochrome black, as they may have done for other demonstrations. She said she believes that the impact of students participating wearing their ordinary clothing will be hugely significant to the recent indictments.
“We think that this will be more arresting than a monochrome black because there will be students lying in the street just as if their lives have been taken in the midst of an ordinary day — just torn carelessly from this life, as were Michael Brown, Jr., Eric Garner and so many others,” he wrote on the event’s Facebook page.
Cara Leigh McClellan ’10 LAW ’15, who worked with Bryant on the event, said she was very proud of her school after the response to Friday’s demonstration. She added that she felt it was important that she respond not just as a human being, but also as a future lawyer.
“We hope to use our role as future lawyers and leaders to highlight that we believe there needs to be a reform of the criminal justice system,” she said. “We were reacting to these decisions as law students, but more importantly as citizens and family members and friends, and we wanted to express a message of empathy that has nothing to do with where you go to school or what your career is.”
Muneer Ahmad, clinical professor of law and supervising attorney of YLS, said in a law school press release today that Yale’s law students of color are uniquely situated to speak with authority about the situations in Ferguson and Staten Island because they hold a “dual consciousness” through their awareness of social reality and professional knowledge of the logic and operation of law.
In addition to the demonstration, the Yale Visual Law Project collected a number of statements on film. Following the final words of Eric Garner, YVLP filmed students saying “I can’t breathe because,” inviting students and participants in the demonstration to fill in the blank.
Madison DeJesus ’18, who attended the demonstration, said it was not the first she had been a part of. After the announcement that the officer who fatally strangled Eric Garner was not to be indicted, she immediately got on a train to New York to participate in larger protests. Today’s demonstration, she said, would prevent conversations from becoming a “moment” instead of a “movement.”the
“I believe in order to make change these demonstrations need to be cumulative all over the country,” she said. “As Yale students, we have the privilege of having our opinions validated by the name of our institution so it is so crucial we use that privilege to make noise, even if it’s done through our silence, like it was today.”
At 4 p.m. Friday, nearly 300 people — many New Haven residents and a sizable contingent of Yale undergraduates — gathered on the New Haven Green to express dissatisfaction with the recent grand jury decisions. Lincoln Mitchell ’15 shouted into a megaphone that the purpose of the rally was education: “Believe that there is going to be hope tomorrow … Don’t let it stop here.” A Newhallville resident urged those gathered to go out into New Haven neighborhoods and experience the ways in which problems revealed in Ferguson play out in cities across the country.
Earlier in the week, on Monday, the Hands Up Walk Out demonstration drew more than 200 University and New Haven community members out of their classrooms and dining halls at 12:01 p.m. — the time at which Brown was shot — onto Cross Campus before marching to City Hall.
Sarah Rose ’17, who has attended other on-campus demonstrations but not the Die-In, said that it is important to be cautious when looking at these protests, because she does not want people to go to the demonstration and then forget the purpose of their protests.
“It is easy to go and demonstrate without taking the conversation further,” she said.
New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman said it is the role of local police to facilitate the safety of protestors and of the general public. However, he emphasized that the police “don’t work with protesters.”
Hartman added that the protesters are upset about something that happened elsewhere by others who are uninvolved with New Haven police. Local officers are expected to “remove [themselves] from it emotionally,” he said.
“We are not New York, we are not Ferguson,” he said. “We are not defending — this police department is not in defense of whatever the issues are. So whenever there’s a protest, we facilitate that protest provided the protest is lawful.”
The amount of people that appeared at the protest was more than organizers had anticipated. Graham White LAW ’16, one of the event’s marshals, said that those in charge did a great job of advertising the demonstration through Facebook and by word of mouth.
DeJesus, however, was not surprised, as she knew that the decision in Eric Garner’s case would ignite stronger feelings, and continue the strong support Yale students were having to the nationwide discussions.
“I am so happy to belong to a community where white and black can recognize injustice and understand we have a job to do as young people capable to make change.”
Correction: Dec. 5
A previous version of this article misidentified the speaker that opened the demonstration.