Mackenzie Hawkins

Activists, students and New Haven residents protested at The Shops at Yale Monday afternoon in response to a recent report by the State’s attorney concerning the officers-involved shooting of two New Haven residents in April.

Organizers from Hamden, New Haven and the University — including members of Hamden Action Now, the New Haven branch of Black Lives Matter and Black Students for Disarmament at Yale — hosted the event. Almost 100 protesters chanted “Black Lives Matter,” “Justice for Stephanie” and “Justice for Paul” while holding up banners emblazoned with the names of victims of police violence from New Haven and across the state. As they did in April, protesters called for the firing of the two involved officers, demonstrating for an hour and a half on the Broadway island in downtown New Haven.

The State’s attorney report, released last Monday, charged Hamden police officer Devon Eaton for firing at Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon, who were unarmed. Eaton was charged with one count of assault and two counts of reckless endangerment. One of his 13 shots hit Washington in the upper thigh and fractured her pelvis and spine, while Witherspoon was uninjured. Yale Police officer Terrance Pollock shot three bullets at the couple after witnessing Eaton’s fire but did not hit either Washington or Witherspoon. State Attorney General Patrick Griffin cleared Pollock of criminal charges and called his actions “objectively reasonable” and “justified” in the official report. Both officers have been on administrative leave from their respective departments while investigations in the shooting were ongoing.

“It is imperative that both officers be held accountable for their lethal actions and be held responsible for their rampageous shooting of Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon,” said Kerry Ellington, a People Against Police Brutality community organizer. “We stand here today as an organized community … demanding justice for Stephanie and Paul.”

Among the key demands of the protestors, both immediately following the shooting and again on Monday, was the immediate termination of both involved officers. The angry crowd also advocated for limiting the jurisdiction of Yale and Hamden police officers — specifically, restricting the YPD’s authority to Yale’s campus and buildings.

While the shooting took place far from Yale’s campus and on the New Haven side of the Hamden-New Haven border, the New Haven Police Department was uninvolved in the April 16 shooting.

“We have a situation where we have a police department for the city of New Haven and we also have two additional police departments that can come in and police New Haven,” Ellington told the News in an interview. “We call that a triple occupation.”

Griffin’s report explicitly stated that the legal reach of Yale’s police department matches that of New Haven municipal police officers. The power of YPD officers is “not limited to Yale University campus or Yale University properties,” the report said.

In an email to the Yale community on Monday, following the publication of the report, Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Janet Lindner wrote that the YPD was working with 21CP Solutions to “make recommendations on how Yale can improve police services.” 21CP Solutions is an organization that partners with police departments to “tackle the challenges of policing in the 21st century,” according to its website. Activists criticized the move as an attempt by the administration to protect itself and the police department.

Jeannia Fu, an organizer with Justice for Jayson, claimed that 21CP was hired because the University “wants to create its own facts.” She called for the abolition of policing altogether, citing its brutality against communities of color. Firing the two involved officers was a step towards dismantling the system, Fu said.

Protestors emphasized that holding Eaton and Pollock responsible for their actions in the shooting was only the first step in their broader goals and demands. TJ Grayson LAW ’21, who is the president of Yale’s Black Law Student Association, told the News that police practices in New Haven need systemic change and must involve more community conversations.

“We demand that Yale stop using the disguise of protecting Yale students to rain terror on New Haven’s black and brown community members,” said Orisha Ochumare, a leader of Black Lives Matter New Haven. “Stop killing us. End the war on black and brown bodies now.”

The protest on Monday afternoon followed a string of community activism that began in the aftermath of the shooting in April, when weeks of demonstrations shut down major streets in both Hamden and New Haven. The shooting prompted the creation of Black Students for Disarmament at Yale — an organization composed of members of the Afro-American Cultural Center. The group demanded the disarmament of the Yale Police Department on Monday and clarified that disarmament was not limited to de-weaponizing the YPD, but also included curbing Yale’s economic and institutional power in New Haven.

Ellington said that activists are planning a takeover of the Broadway island until their demands are met. Demonstrations are scheduled to continue on a weekly or biweekly basis.

Both Washington and Witherspoon were unarmed at the time of the shooting.

Meera Shoaib | meera.shoaib@yale.edu