There is a growing list in the United States: a list that includes Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd and Terence Crutcher. Now, students at Yale and other universities across the country are uniting under a common goal: no more names.
Founded at Harvard, No More Names is a fundraising and advocacy organization that mobilizes Generation Z around the issue of police brutality. On Friday, the organization’s Yale chapter, led by Isaac Yearwood ’22, partnered with the Yale Black Men’s Union to host a discussion featuring urban ethnographer, former police officer and Yale Postdoctoral Associate Kalfani Ture. The discussion, moderated by Robel Mulugeta ’20, offered insight into the historical and current issues with policing in America and police forces’ interactions with communities of color. Roughly 60 people attended the event in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall room 114.
“Black and brown people have been put down, ignored, and as far as the law is concerned, considered lesser than others …[and] abused for no reason at all except for the color of their skin,” said No More Names organizer Jaelen King ’22, who helped plan the event.
Plans for the discussion originated at the beginning of the school year, according to King. By January, the group had solidified plans to hold the event on April 19. Early Tuesday morning in Newhallville, a Yale police officer and a Hamden police officer shot at Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon, who were both unarmed, according to a Connecticut State Police press release last week. Since the shooting, a coalition of community organizations such as People Against Police Brutality and Black Lives Matter New Haven and Yale groups including the Yale Black Men’s Union and the Yale Black Women’s Coalition have organized several protests directed at the Yale administration and the Yale and Hamden Police Departments.
While Friday’s discussion was planned before the shooting, King said, the incident reinforced the importance of having such conversations.
At the event, Ture highlighted the importance of contextualizing modern issues of police brutality within American history. He cited Harvard Professor Orlando Patterson’s analysis that slavery places the black body at the bottom of the social order, which means that “black skin becomes a demerit…. It means that people of color lack credibility. And if you lack credibility, you lack moral authority.” Without moral authority, he continued, requests for police accountability “will fall on deaf ears.”
Since Tuesday, New Haven community leaders and Yale student organizers alike have demanded that the two officers involved in the shooting — YPD officer Terrance Pollock and Hamden officer Devin Eaton — be fired immediately. Both Pollock and Eaton were put on administrative leave by their departments following the shooting, according to a Yale press release and a New Haven Independent story, respectively.
Ture said that officers, rather than being immediately fired, are afforded due process at a slow, deliberate pace despite the fact that “the people who they assaulted didn’t receive due process.”
Reflecting on his career as a police officer in the Atlanta area, he also commented that officers rarely hold one another accountable, and that police academies do little to educate recruits on policing and race. Additionally, he criticized a culture of recruits sharing notes right before exams and forgetting their contents afterward, which “undermines any sort of social justice … built into the curriculum.”
According to Ture, in their policing strategies, officers of all racial backgrounds “look to what’s consistent with whiteness” and who diverges from that. Officers are socialized and professionalized, Ture said, to see black and brown bodies as a danger.
“You don’t have to say that the standard is white,” Ture said. “But we know it.”
To change this police culture, Ture said, it is necessary to organize police academy curricula that are aware of and attentive to historical relations and modern structural conditions that perpetuate inequality. It is also important, he elaborated, to change police officers’ “warrior mentality” on the job.
Ture further stressed that while it is important to talk about policing, the problems of racism and white supremacy affect a multitude of institutions, from public schools to environmental policy.
“White space is valued. Black space is devalued,” he said. “And this is intentional.”
Ture said that it is necessary to find responsive politicians and to continue to protest and put pressure on local officials to effect systematic reform. He himself joined over 500 New Haven community members and Yale students on Thursday to protest the shooting of Washington and Witherspoon.
Students need to ask why Yale and New Haven are such disparate spaces, Ture continued. He emphasized the need for stronger connections between the University and the city.
In an interview with the News, Tahj Lakey ’21 said that he came to Friday’s discussion event because No More Names as an organization “allows students to sit at the table” for conversations about police brutality. He also found it important to hear the perspective of a former police officer — especially a black police officer. Another attendee, Taylor Adams ’22, who grew up in Shanghai and as a result has been relatively removed from discussions of police brutality in the United States, attended the event to join the discussion and continue to educate herself.
Anise Overton ’22 said that she planned on attending the No More Names event before the shooting on Tuesday.
“Part of me says [that] there will always be next time and I can go that time, but the fact that it’s so reliable — that there will be a next time — is why it’s important to show up now so that we can change that,” Overton said.
Looking forward, the Yale chapter of No More Names looks to continue hosting events in partnership with other student groups. Referencing the recent shooting in New Haven, King said that the organization hopes that Yale students and the community at large take the incident seriously.
“It’s really big to talk about the fact that she’s a black woman, and that her and her black boyfriend we shot at … that they were completely unarmed, innocent, and had nothing to do with the impending case,” King said. “It’s an egregious offense. And we as students take a large offense to that.”
Community organizers will be attending a Hamden City Council special legislative meeting Monday evening at 2750 Dixwell Ave. to demand that funding assigned to school resource officers instead be used for an independent investigation. Additionally, organizers are planning on attending a Hamden City Council meeting on May 6 to encourage a resolution urging the Hamden Police Commission to open an independent investigation. Organizers also plan to attend a Hamden Police Commission meeting on May 8 and a YPD Commission meeting on May 14.
Mackenzie Hawkins | firstname.lastname@example.org