The University’s reaction after a Yale Police Department officer forced Tahj Blow ’16 to the ground at gunpoint has caused friction between YPD officers and the administration.
Two days after the Jan. 24 incident, University President Peter Salovey, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins sent an email to the Yale community promising a thorough investigation into the incident. Moreover, the email stated that “what happened on Cross Campus on Saturday is not a replay of what happened in Ferguson; Staten Island; Cleveland; or so many other places in our time and over time in the United States.”
On Thursday, the Yale Police Benevolent Association — an independent union the represents YPD officers — condemned the administration’s response, saying that it created a presumption of guilt. References to incidences where unarmed men were killed by police officers was disproportional, and had “no place” in a discussion of a simple burglary investigation, the statement said.
Defending the actions of the police officer who drew his weapon, the YPBA argued that the administration’s reaction “has a chilling effect on officer safety and may yield a consequence that results in the death or serious physical injury of one of our officers.”
“We completely support our officer in his actions,” a statement from the YPBA read. “Yale needs to unequivocally support its police officers when their actions are reasonable and appropriate; not sacrifice them for political expediency.”
YPBA Executive President Eric Reed could not be reached for comment Thursday evening. Salovey, Higgins and Holloway also did not respond to requests for comment.
The statement further noted that the officer’s decision to draw his gun was in fact in line with the “reasonable officer standard of review.” The University’s investigation into the event, it suggested, should therefore find the officer’s actions justified.
In condemning the administration’s reaction, the YPBA’s statement argued that the University responded to the incident in the way it did because of public optics.
Blow’s case sparked national interest when his father, New York Times columnist Charles Blow, tweeted that his son had been “accosted” by the officer, adding the hashtags #ICantBreathe and #BlackLivesMatter, ones typically linked to movements against racial profiling and police brutality.
“Would Yale be as concerned if, instead of the son of an influential newspaper columnist and television commentator, the suspect was a young man who lived in New Haven housing project and whose father had a menial job? We doubt it,” the statement said.
Karen Peart, Yale’s deputy press secretary, said in a Thursday email to the News that the administration was aware of the YPBA’s statement, which had been posted in YPD headquarters early this week and had been shared within the department, Peart said.
While Peart said the administration stands behind the YPBA’s right to freedom of expression, she denied the YPBA’s claim the administration was comparing the incident to the events of Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland.
“The University’s message made clear that Yale does not agree with [these comparisons],” Peart said, adding that the email from University officials made its support of the police department well known.
Peart said further comment about the incident would be “inappropriate” before the investigation of the events is complete.
Even though University officials still have faith in the police department, Chadd Cosse ’17, a member of Yale’s Black Men’s Union, said the YPBA’s argument that the officer was acting reasonably is difficult to comprehend.
“They need to be apologizing to Yale, to him and to his family,” he said. “They made a huge mistake, and to say [the officer was acting reasonably] is way off.”