On Thursday, hundreds of Yalies, New Haven residents and activists demanded justice for Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon after Tuesday’s officer-involved shooting. The protest shut down major thoroughfare streets around the city for several hours as community members chanted and marched until midnight.
The rally, which began at 5 p.m. with a gathering of roughly 200 people, moved from outside of Woodbridge Hall toward Broadway, where even more participants congregated at the intersection of York and Elm streets before marching in a loop throughout the downtown area — gathering on M.L.K. Jr. Boulevard and outside of Yale on York before ultimately returning to Broadway.
The group chanted in unison as they walked down the New Haven streets: “Say her name. … Say his name.”
Early Tuesday morning in the neighborhood of Newhallville, a Yale and a Hamden police officer shot at Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon, who were both unarmed. According to a Connecticut State Police press release, Washington was shot in the torso, while Witherspoon was not injured. Washington is currently stable. The incident is currently under state investigation.
Throughout the course of the night, the crowd grew to 500 students and community members, who joined together in a nonviolent protest in solidarity with Washington and Witherspoon. Attendees spoke, sang, chanted and passed around food as they sat and stood at street intersections from 5:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. As a result of the protests, the New Haven Police Department, who was not involved in Tuesday’s shooting, blocked the surrounding areas off to all traffic into the night.
“There is a larger context of state-sanctioned violence that we are in,” Kerry Ellington, a People Against Police Brutality community organizer, told the rally’s attendees early in the afternoon as they gathered on Wall Street outside of Woodbridge Hall. “[Washington and Witherspoon] did absolutely nothing wrong. And even if they did do something wrong, it still wouldn’t be cause for deprivation of their rights. Why is it okay?”
The rally was organized by a coalition of local groups including Black Lives Matter New Haven and People Against Police Brutality, as well as a slew of Yale student organizations, such as the Yale Black Men’s Union and the Yale Black Women’s Coalition. The organizers specifically sought out the participation of Yale students. On both Tuesday — just hours after the shooting — and on Wednesday, activists gathered in various locations in both New Haven and Hamden to demand responses from city and town authorities. But on Thursday, participants at the rally directed their requests to the Yale administration.
Thursday’s rally specifically concerned the involvement of the Yale Police Department officer in the shooting. In a communitywide statement on Wednesday night, University President Peter Salovey identified the officer as Terrance Pollock — a 16-year veteran of the YPD. Salovey added that the administration is in contact with New Haven Mayor Toni Harp as well as the Yale and Hamden police departments.
“We will also engage with our fellow members of the greater New Haven community. Our relief that the young woman who was shot did not suffer life-threatening injuries must not signal closure, but rather an opening: now is the time for all of us — city residents, their elected leaders, community organizers, and the Yale community — to come together,” Salovey said in the statement.
Authorities affiliated with Yale, Hamden and New Haven have all reiterated that the state attorney’s office is conducting an investigation into the shooting. But over the past three days, protestors demanded immediate actions from the University. Ellington and other organizers called for Pollock’s firing, a fair and thorough investigation from the state and the release of all relevant camera footage — including body camera footage.
According to University spokesperson Tom Conroy, Pollock has been placed on administrative leave. The Hamden police officer has also been placed on leave pending the investigation’s outcome, according to acting Hamden Police Chief John Cappiello. But community members have demanded that Pollack be fired or placed on unpaid leave while the investigation is ongoing, citing the abundance of witness videos demonstrating impropriety.
Conroy told the News that all University responses to date were in accordance with “existing policy” and that the University would not amend its current practices or take any further actions until the state attorney’s investigation released its findings. According to Salovey’s statement, Yale cannot conduct its own investigation until the state investigation concludes.
For many of the students and community members who spoke throughout the night, the shooting was another demonstration of law enforcement’s racial bias.
As the protesters moved and occupied each successive location, NHPD squad cars blocked off streets, and NHPD officers patrolled the crowds. At approximately 11 p.m., in an attempt to contain the protest — which at this point had grown to around 500 people — the NHPD created a barrier of police cars on George Street. The protestors had to weave between the cars one-by-one before congregating again on the other side.
On the Greater New Haven Police scanner around 11 p.m., NHPD officers were told: “Make sure body cams are on” and to, “Use caution when responding.”
The night ended peacefully. Organizers told the crowd to remain united and notified them of another rally in Hamden at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.
Established in 1894, the Yale Police Department is the nation’s oldest university police department.
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Photos by Eric Wang, Reuben Ng, David Zheng and Daniel Zhao, respectively.