In the minutes leading up to 6 p.m. in the Luce Hall Auditorium on Monday night, a series of facts appeared on the screen for members of the Yale and New Haven communities to contemplate, such as “What percentage of white police officers think deaths of blacks during police confrontations are ‘isolated incidents’ rather than signs of a broader problem?” A set of four multiple-choice answers flashed on the screen, slowly disappearing one by one until the audience was left with a screen that was empty save for a single answer: “c. 72%.”
Then the movie began.
“Questions of Justice: Officers of Color in the Era of #BlackLivesMatter,” a film directed by Aaron Peirano Garrison ’22 and Clark Burnett ’19, focuses on how minority police officers navigate tension and division between police and marginalized communities in light of increased activism and scrutiny directed toward the actions of police in recent years.
Yale’s Policy Lab and Institution of Social Policy Studies co-hosted the screening and a panel discussion afterwards that involved scholars, police officers and activists — many of whom had been interviewed for the film. The approximately 40-minute-long film is still an ongoing project and is expected by its creators to become a full-length film in the future.
“This is the first time we’ve had a space as large as this and a platform as large as this to discuss the topics in the film. This event is particularly unique because we have people in the film in the community to … talk about the community, the film and the people,” Burnett said. “The beauty of the film is that it doesn’t have to be limited to whatever screening we do, it’s really in the conversation which happens directly afterwards.”
Monica Bell LAW ’09, an associate professor at Yale Law School and one of the panelists, said one of the most powerful aspects of the film is its ability to show the humanity of officers of color. She added that her biggest takeaway from the discussion was the importance of structurally analyzing racial trends in policing, rather than focusing only on individual cases.
Ken Barone, policy and research specialist with the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy, noted during the panel that Connecticut has been leading the national conversation about racial disparity and how the law is enforced. But of the 106 police departments in Connecticut, he added, only seven police chiefs in the state are not white men. According to Barone, this includes one woman, one Hispanic American and five black men, two of whom are chiefs of college campuses, including Yale University’s Chief Ronnell Higgins.
New Haven Police Chief Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09 — a police chief and one of three New Haven Police Department police chiefs of color in history — also joined the panel.
“I wish that all 18,000 police departments in this country were mandated to watch this film,” Campbell said. “It doesn’t paint the picture that this is the officer’s side or this is the community’s side or this is the black officer’s side. It paints a picture, really, of justice.”
Barone praised Campbell for being one of the law enforcers who is engaging in conversations that seriously address the significant racial disparities evident in the law enforcement system.
The conversation also turned to the subject of how the general public approaches questions of police brutality and their implications.
The youngest panelist, Quinn Isaiah Williamson, an activist and undergraduate student at Howard University, said that too much of the public opinion on police brutality is based on specific scenarios.
“There is a problem with the narrative that the incidence of police brutality is anecdotal and saying that officers like Darren Wilson who killed Michael Brown are just ‘bad apples,’” Williamson said. “That whole theory has to go.”
After the panel discussion, Peirano Garrison, the film’s director and producer, told the News that he was amazed by how difficult and complex issues of race in policing are but how simple they can be made.
Attendees said they enjoyed the presentation for a range of reasons, from professional interest in the subject matter to personal interest.
“I’m doing some work around how incarceration impacts children’s development and family structures in New Haven, so I found the talk very insightful,” said Patrice Collins GRD ’22, a graduate affiliate in Grace Hopper College. “The discussion about the psychological effects of families, that stood out to me because I’m really interested in protective factors, specifically for young children that have intergenerational cycles of incarcerated family members.”
Lisa Monroe, a senior administrative assistant in the Department of African American Studies, said she found the narratives and personal anecdotes discussed at the event — and their connection to structural racism — to be significant.
Campbell, for instance, said the issues of the film made him think of his son.
“Looking at my 16-year-old son who is my height, outweighs me and lets his facial hair grow, I look at him sometimes and am always trying to teach him how to navigate society,” he said. “Yes, I am the chief of police of this 18.6 square miles of city … but Connecticut is big. This country is large. Not everyone knows that this is the police chief’s son.”
Lieutenant Tarrick McGuire of the Arlington Police Department and an International Association of Chiefs police fellow echoed Campbell’s personal connection to the film, explaining that “for me personally, watching this film stirs up an array of emotions.”
He recalled a time when he was sitting in a restaurant in uniform and saw a young man pull out a chair for his mother. McGuire walked over to commend the young boy for his chivalry, but the boy lifted his hands up in response to being confronted by a police officer.
“I say that to say that these issues are real,” explained McGuire. “They continue to go on. It is important to have this conversation. It is important for people to capture these moments.”
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