A crowd of roughly 250 marched across Yale’s campus in protest of the University’s response to last week’s shooting of Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon by a Yale police officer and a Hamden police officer. The protest focused on a series of promises that organizers say the University has broken.
The rally was hosted by graduate student union Local 33 and New Haven Rising, an organization that uses collective action to achieve economic, racial and social justice, according to its Facebook page. At the event, attendees promoted transparency and accountability at Yale in the wake of the shooting. Protesters marched from Woodbridge Hall to University President Peter Salovey’s house on Hillhouse Avenue to place signs calling for justice on his front lawn.
“When you kill our young people this is what you get,” New Haven Rising’s Rev. Scott Marks said on Thursday. “These are our children. Enough is enough. … [We need to] make sure we lift up Stephanie and Paul, that we lift up jobs for New Haven residents, that we lift up calling for a better quality for life. It’s time for change.”
In the early morning of April 16, the two officers shot at Washington and Witherspoon in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood at the border of Hamden and New Haven. Hours after the incident, the State’s Attorney and Connecticut State Police began an investigation, which is still ongoing. According to a New Haven Independent article, state detectives have established probable cause to search for evidence of first-degree assault.
“We’re standing here at the ivory tower,” Marks continued, gesturing to Woodbridge Hall. “And I know that there are the means for there to be change.”
In addition to demanding the firing of Terrance Pollack, the Yale police officer involved in the shooting, speakers at Thursday’s event highlighted the University’s continued failure to deliver on promises to New Haven and to its students. They criticized a lack of faculty diversity; consistent underfunding of race, gender, and ethnicity studies on campus and Yale’s failure to meet its commitment to hire 1,000 New Haven residents from neighborhoods of need.
At the protest, Ward 9 Alder and Vice President of Local 33 Charles Decker GRD ’19 shared a report by Local 33’s Equal Rights and Access Committee titled “A Failure to Commit.” According to the report, there were 26 black tenured faculty members at Yale in 2017 — amounting to 4 percent of the University’s total faculty. That percentage has not changed since 2005, the first year for which data is available. Decker also cited a 2003 report that found a similar trend, amounting to 30 years of Yale not meaningfully increasing the number of black faculty members on campus.
“We fight to hold Yale accountable not only to our contracts and the promises that they make to this community, but to each and every one of us,” Barbara Vereen, Chief Steward of Local 34 and Newhallville resident, said at the event. “We fight for justice for Stephanie. We fight for justice for Paul.”
In addition to what they called limited faculty diversity, organizers highlighted Yale’s lack of commitment to ethnic studies on campus. This past March, 13 senior faculty members withdrew their services from the Program of Ethnicity, Race and Migration, citing a lack of University support. Grace Ambrossi ’20, a member of the Coalition for Ethnic Studies at Yale, said on Thursday that Yale has not supported students seeking to learn about their communities.
“Yale, hire us. Yale, stop shooting us,” Ambrossi said. “Yale, teach us.”
At the event, Hannah Lee ’20, a student involved with the student activist group Students Unite Now, criticized Yale’s student effort portion of financial aid — colloquially known as the student income contribution. She said the financial aid policy divides undergraduates along lines of class, race and documentation status. Last Monday, five students were arrested for protesting against the student effort in front of Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall, and an additional 19 were arrested following day for blocking traffic in front of Phelps Gate. Lee said that Yale’s response to the protestors demonstrates that the University would rather arrest students than listen to them.
Speakers also criticized Yale’s lack of financial contribution to the city. Due to its nonprofit status, Yale is exempt from property taxes and instead makes voluntary contributions — which amounted to approximately $11.5 million in 2018 — in lieu of the nearly $200 million the University would pay annually if it were taxed.
Rodney Williams, Witherspoon’s uncle, also addressed the crowd, stressing the need for unity among various groups fighting for justice for his nephew and Washington as well as for systematic change at Yale and in New Haven.
“At the end of the day, we are one,” Williams said. “When you got a problem, we got a problem. When we got a problem … you got a problem.”
On Friday at 4 p.m., Black Students for Disarmament at Yale, or BSD, and a coalition of other student groups will march from Cross Campus to the Yale Police Department to hand-deliver civilian complaint campaigns that BSD has collected throughout the week.
Mackenzie Hawkins | firstname.lastname@example.org