The chant, “No justice, No peace, No racist police” reverberated from the steps of the New Haven Police Department yesterday afternoon when roughly 40 people assembled to denounce police violence.
At 4:30 p.m., protesters marched through the middle of Union Avenue. towards the police department carrying posters and chanting through megaphones in response to a video depicting a 15-year-old girl named Teandrea Cornelius slammed to the ground by a New Haven police officer during the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 15. The video, posted on YouTube, appears to reveal the officer holding the black teenager against an SUV, then pushing her to pavement. The NHPD has since launched an internal investigation into the conduct of the officer, said officer David Hartman, media liaison for the police department.
“A NHPD Internal Affairs inquiry was initiated to thoroughly review the circumstances of this arrest,” Hartman said in a March 18 press release. “As is the policy of the department, no public statements are made while such inquiries are ongoing.”
The Monday protest began as a march in the Hill District and progressed to police headquarters at 5:30 p.m., where several state residents, including social justice activists Barbara Fair, Cornell Lewis and Hali Tucker as well as Pastors John Lewis and Donald Morse spoke out about the incident. Tucker, the first of the protesters to speak, stated that the use of such force against a teenager was unwarranted and cruel despite allegations that she resisted the officer.
“It doesn’t matter what she did,” said Tucker. “A little child doesn’t deserve to be slammed on the ground by a grown man. Our kids matter.”
The New Haven Independent reported that the teenager’s mother, Valerie Boyd, said her daughter had been attacked by an 18-year-old in Buffalo Wild Wings during the parade and that the police officer threw her to the ground when she did not promptly respond to the police officer’s questions. Questions remain about whether Cornelius was in possession of a knife during the incident. The video shows an officer holding a knife after the teenager was brought to the ground, but police have not said whether the girl was carrying the knife during the confrontation, according to the Independent.
When asked if Tucker believed race played a role in the police officer’s attack, she said the protests were not about race, but rather about the lack of respect from police officers.
Barbara Fair, a racial justice activist and secretary of the American Civil Liberties Union’s New Haven chapter, however, stated that the police officers would not have reacted so violently if Cornelius were a Yale student, adding that this is not the first youth of color in New Haven who has faced violent treatment.
According to Fair and other protesters, Cornelius sustained severe injuries to her head, face and shoulder during the confrontation.
Lewis, who organized rallies in Hartford, added in a speech that police violence towards people of color by police is a serious problem in America.
“The police officer had no business slamming this child to the ground when she was already handcuffed,” said Cornell. “We cannot continue to be treated this way.”
Also present at the protest were several members of the NAACP, including State NAACP President Scot Esdaile and Doris Dumas, president of the Greater New Haven chapter.
Esdaile said people of color are treated differently by police officers, and that incidents like this one occur across the state.
“Would police officers handle a Yale student in this way?” Esdaile said. “We need to continue asking questions until all of us are treated fairly.”
Dumas said that when she heard of the incident, she immediately called NHPD Chief Dean Esserman, who assured her that the department was thoroughly investigating the incident. She added that her relationship with the department has been good, but that accountability and transparency will be important in preventing future incidents.
Despite Dumas’s comments, several of the speakers claimed the relationship between police and community members is estranged due to a lack of transparency. Fair said the department has not been forthcoming with information, and protestors repeatedly asked for the name of the officer involved in the incident but did not get any response from the department.
Pastor Lewis said community members’ opinions and experiences should be considered by the police department during the investigation.
The protesters entered the police department headquarters twice over the span of one hour, and around 6 p.m. a police officer exited the building to address the protesters, stating that there is a process that the officer involved in the incident is currently undergoing.
“There is a due process for every officer,” said the officer. “The department will allow the process to come to volition before taking action.”
But Fair, Lewis and many of the protesters said the officer involved in the incident should not still be permitted to patrol the streets. The officer has not been suspended or prohibited from patrolling communities, said Fair. Even during the investigation, the officer should be put on desk duty, she added.
Karleh Wilson ’16, who attended the protest, also criticized the process mentioned by the officer, stating that it decreases police accountability to the community.
“The process is apparently transparent, but youth in New Haven are still terrified by the cops, and vice versa, [which leads] to more assaults like the one being protested today,” said Wilson. “[The process] gives them too much power, and continues to hurt the morale of the underprivileged groups in New Haven.”
Still, several people at the protest did not believe the police department was at fault.
Marco Francia, a retired New Haven law enforcement officer, told the News that the media coverage of incidents of possible police brutality demonize police officers when the statistics show the rates of police misconduct to be relatively low.
“I’m here to support the police department,” Francia said. “They don’t get the recognition they deserve.”
It is unclear when the results of the investigation will be released. Police Captain Julie Johnson told the News that the time frame varies by case because Internal Affairs interviews everyone involved in the incident.
Abigail Roth ’90 LAW ’94, Ward 7 Alder and member of Public Safety Committee, said that this incident will most likely be discussed at the next Public Safety Committee meeting.
Before the incident occurred, the NHPD offered an in-service program teaching de-escalation measures, said Hartman. Johnson added that the department is interested in looking into body cameras for officers on duty.