Dressed in all white, Emma Jones strode to her seat on a panel at the front of a packed auditorium two weeks ago at the Law School. She addressed an assembly of undergraduates, law school students and community activists. Jones shared the story of her son, Malik, who was gunned down by an East Haven police officer in 1997, and the journey, in her words, “to muster up the strength to wage a struggle for justice.”
After her son’s death, Jones started the Malik Organization to advocate for accountability measures for police officers. For 21 years, she researched civilian review boards and pushed to create one in New Haven. As Yale students, we have an opportunity to support her decadeslong struggle by supporting the creation of the Malik All-Civilian Review Board by the Board of Alders.
This past semester, members of the Yale Undergraduate Legal Aid Association investigated the prevalence of police brutality in Connecticut. We researched and profiled alleged incidents, and have catalogued more than 63 cases so far. This figure does not include the countless incidents that were never reported due to a variety of obstacles, including police intimidation. While some might assume officer misconduct could not plague a state as liberal as Connecticut, we have found that police brutality is widespread.
And this problem is not limited to the permanent residents of Connecticut. In rarer cases, Yale students have also suffered from police misconduct in New Haven. For example, in 2010, the New Haven Police Department raided the Morse-Stiles dance held at Elevate and Alchemy, citing underage drinking. Many students were concerned about the aggressive tactics these officers used, including tasing a student so severely that he had to go to the hospital.
Despite the Elevate raid, matters of police accountability may not seem relevant to the Yale community. Many of us associate Yale police officers around campus with a feeling of security and safety, not a potential threat.
It is important to remember that many residents of New Haven do not share our experience with policing. The history of police brutality in the city has created a need for increased accountability; without reform, the relationship between officers and civilians will fail to improve.
We have a responsibility, as college students in New Haven, to understand this dynamic and work to rectify injustice in our community. Yale’s many voices, joined together, can help sway the Board of Alders to accept the review board and begin the journey towards accountability between police officers and residents.
The Malik All-Civilian Review Board proposal, championed by activists in the community, accomplishes two critical goals. First, the All-Civilian Review Board would collaborate with the Board of Alders — which, under state law, can exercise subpoena power through its committees or its president — to obtain needed documents and testimony. Second, it would hire paid investigators to follow up personally on alleged police misconduct.
The Malik All-Civilian Review Board is a vast improvement over a competing draft introduced last spring by alders Jessica Holmes, who did not run for re-election, and Gerald Antunes. Their ordinance, written without consultation from longtime community advocates, would only give the board power to request “do-overs” — asking the police to investigate misconduct a second time — without any power of its own. This will not bring the change needed to restore accountability to policing in New Haven. National experts, including lawyers at American Civil Liberties Union chapters around the country who have worked on this issue for decades, believe a board without investigative power would offer the guise of accountability, without the “teeth” to make it happen. The Malik All-Civilian Review Board proposal is a much stronger one, and we as Yale students can help support it.
To get involved, sign the petitions circulated by the Yale Undergraduate Legal Aid Association, the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project and the Yale College Democrats at residential colleges’ dining halls.
Arka Gupta is a sophomore in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org . Julia Tofan is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at email@example.com . Ioann Popov is a first year in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .