Residents and activists packed into the usually sparsely attended New Haven Board of Alders meeting on Monday night, awaiting a vote that could determine the fate of police accountability in New Haven. Instead, they received an anticlimactic outcome, as the Alders tabled voting on the contentious resolution.
The Elm City is currently engulfed in debates regarding the establishment of a Civilian Review Board to hold police officers accountable for brutality. At a Nov. 13 joint meeting of the Board of Alders’ Legislation and Public Safety Committees, committee members voted to advance a resolution creating a Review Board — whose establishment was required by a 2013 referendum vote to amend the city’s charter. But the proposed resolution was widely denounced by activists because it did not grant subpoena power — the power to demand documents and compel witness testimonies. The activists almost uniformly argued that without independent investigatory power, the Review Board would be powerless to address the police brutality that has plagued the Elm City for decades.
On Friday, activists rallied on the steps of City Hall and clashed with staffers of Mayor Toni Harp and police officers, who temporarily blocked their access to the building. Ultimately, the activists managed to schedule a meeting with Harp at 2:30 p.m. on Monday, just hours before the resolution in question was slated to be voted on by the full Board.
The Alders, at the urging of Board President Tyisha Walker-Myers and Majority Leader Richard Furlow agreed to table the resolution at the closed caucus meeting just the public meeting. In the actual meeting, which ran for just over half an hour, the agenda item concerning the Civilian Review Board proposal was read and passed on after a slew of other issues were voted on. At the meeting’s conclusion, many residents and attendees — who showed up to pressure the Alders for the proposal — were unaware that the issue had even been raised.
“Residents from every corner of New Haven have spoken up and it’s clear tonight that the Board of Alders is beginning to hear us,” representatives from the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project advocacy group said in a statement to the News. “But … a delayed vote means nothing if this ineffective civilian review board proposal isn’t amended and improved by the vote.”
The meeting earlier in the afternoon involved five representatives from the activist community — Jenny Tumas LAW ’20, Kerry Ellington, Jeannia Fu, Chris Garrafa, Aaron Jaffaeris and Emma Jones. Jones is a longtime advocate for a full-bodied Civilian Review Board. In 1997, her then- 21-year-old son Malik Jones was shot by East Haven police, reinvigorating the issue of police accountability after it was initially raised by a New Haven Alder in 1995. Since then, she has travelled through the country researching review boards and served as an advisor to the New Haven community on the M.A.L.I.K. proposal — a specific ordinance for a civilian review board with investigatory power that most activists point to as an adequate alternative to the current proposal.
In the meeting, the activists spoke with Harp, Walker-Myers and Furlow. Walker-Myers and Furlow approached the meeting with the intention of calling on their colleagues to pass on the resolution at the full Board meeting.
Furlow explained that the ultimate decision to pass over the current proposal reflected the fact that amendments to the proposal were still being considered. The process of amending resolutions, he explained, continues past the stage of committee approval. In a resolution as contentious as this one, he recognized that more time was needed to prepare “the best CRB” proposal possible.
In the 2:30 p.m. meeting, Furlow said that he and Walker-Myers “affirmed [their] commitment to work with the community.” That commitment, he suggested, was more than political.
“I am a black man. You think I’m not concerned about this?” Furlow said.
As mayor, Harp does not have a direct impact on proposals in the Board of Alders — the city’s legislative arm. But activists engaged her in the hopes that she would facilitate conversation on the issue.
According to Tumas, Harp was supportive of the activists’ requests and promised to engage in conversation with the Board of Alders leadership. Tumas told the News that Harp agreed that the demands by community advocates seemed reasonable, especially given the level of community involvement that has historically been a part of the conversation on establishing a review board.
“The charter, in fact, demands that the ordinance [establishes a community review board] has community support,” Tumas said.
Of the Board of Alders’ 30 members, 28 were present for Monday evening’s meeting.
Angela Xiao | firstname.lastname@example.org