A protest against President Donald Trump at New Haven City Hall on Saturday ended with pepper spray, police dogs and two arrests.
After congregating at 3 p.m. to hear speeches, about 200 protesters marched across Route 34, creating a human barricade to block traffic. State police officers then threatened to arrest them if they did not clear the area.
Although many attendees began to disperse or watched from the sideline, at least 50 people remained in the street for approximately half an hour. Protesters moved out of the street by 4:50 p.m. and began to march back to City Hall, followed by more than a dozen New Haven and state police officers.
When protesters reached the corner of Church and Chapel streets, police chased them out of the street and took three men into custody.
“When we started retreating to go back to City Hall and finish the rally, [the police] became violent,” said Alejandra Campos ’19, a protest attendee. “They literally grabbed me and pushed me. They had one police officer that was very threatening. He was threatening people with his attack dog.”
She said a man next to her was arrested by the police and pushed to the ground and, in her panic, she was not sure whether to try to assist him or to get away. Campos said she did not understand why the police began to escalate force and use pepper spray on nonviolent protesters.
The New Haven Police Department could not be reached for comment over the weekend. Police on scene declined to comment, but one officer told the protesters to police each other and stay out of the streets in the future.
Two protesters were arrested and charged, and a third was detained and released, according to Patricia Kane, a New Haven lawyer representing those arrested at the rally pro bono.
Norman Clement, an activist with ANSWER Coalition, has four charges against him, including inciting a riot, Kane said. He was released on a $5,000 surety bond, Kane added.
Police arrested Clement on Chapel Street outside the dollar store. After his arrest, he was surrounded by more than 10 police officers, who would not let Kane or other protesters come near him.
Kane said Clement was pepper sprayed three times while he was immobile. She added that after he was released from custody in Bridgeport, he was taken to an emergency room where his eyes were washed out. She said it was her understanding that Clement was targeted by police because they believed he was the protest’s leader.
Three other witnesses interviewed said they watched the police use pepper spray on protesters and said an older woman fell to the ground after being pushed over by police. The woman declined to comment or give her name.
The rally was organized by local activist groups including ANSWER Coalition, Unidad Latina en Acción, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
Addressing the crowd before the march, Stanley Heller of the Middle East Crisis Committee spoke about the importance of actions such as strikes. He told the crowd that Trump does not care about their opinions and that activists must move “from protest to disruption.”
Campos said she believes the highway blockade was an effective protest tactic as protesters must reach groups of people who do not agree with them.
During the highway blockade, protesters chanted “Show me a wall; this is a wall,” in reference to Trump’s plan to build a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico.
A few people in the more than 40 blocked cars on the highway yelled back at the protesters. One woman repeatedly shouted, “Refugees, go home.” Another yelled that she had to go to work.
After protesters left the highway, John Lugo, an organizer with ULA, said people are going to begin participating in more disruptive actions, such as blockades, across the country.
Correction, Feb. 6: A previous version of the article referred to Route 34 as Highway 34.