Black Students for Disarmament at Yale called for the complete disarmament of the Yale Police Department after the University announced the 30-day suspension of Yale police officer Terrance Pollock for his role in the April shooting of Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon.
In a Dec. 28 Facebook post, BSD — an organization formed shortly after the shooting — emphasized that this suspension followed months of protests organized by a broad coalition of student and local activist groups. BSD also listed their current demands, which include the establishment of responsibly defined police districts and the public release of Yale’s internal investigative reports.
“While we are encouraged by the YPD taking disciplinary action against Pollock, we would like to underscore that the YPD only reached this conclusion after months of community organization, civil disobedience and protest,” the statement read. “The work toward disarmament does not end with one officer, and we will not allow this victory to make us think otherwise. Justice has not, and will not, be realized until these demands are met.”
Last April, Pollock and Hamden police officer Devin Eaton stopped a car in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood following a 911 call reporting an attempted armed robbery. Subsequently released video footage reveals Witherspoon — the vehicle’s driver — exited the car with both hands raised. Eaton stepped to the passenger side of the car and fired at the vehicle. While Witherspoon remained uninjured, Washington — the passenger — suffered multiple injuries, including a gunshot wound in the thigh that caused fracturing in the pelvis and spine. After Pollock’s car was hit by one of Eaton’s stray bullets, Pollock fired three shots as well. He also sustained a minor injury to his calf from another of Eaton’s bullets. It was later revealed that both Washington and Witherspoon were unarmed.
Following an internal investigation conducted by former Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court Chase Rogers, the University opted to suspend Pollock for 30 days without pay. According to the Dec. 20 University statement, Pollock — who had been on leave pending the investigation’s conclusion — will be reassigned to an administrative position that does not require a uniform or a gun.
Still, BSD said the decision did not generate the systematic change necessary to prevent future shootings.
“We think the University is hesitant to meet the demands of activists because [the demands] are in stark contrast to what the University created YPD to be,” said BSD representatives Zoe Hopson ’22 and Jaelen King ’22 in a statement to the News. “YPD’s main job is to protect Yale’s interests [as an institution], and that’s done by policing the already oppressed communities of color around campus to make New Haven seem ‘safer’ for potential applicants.”
University spokesperson Karen Peart did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding BSD’s argument about the YPD’s purpose.
The University established the YPD in 1894 to patrol the University following a mass riot that resulted in the injuries of many students and New Haven residents, according to the YPD’s website.
Hopson and King said that the YPD’s lack of communication with, and accountability to, the broader community means they should not have policing privileges in areas of New Haven beyond campus. They added that BSD plans to continue organizing, advocating for substantial reforms to the YPD and supporting community activists in Hamden and New Haven.
New Haven State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin brought one felony and two misdemeanor charges against Eaton, who fired 13 of the 16 shots in the April incident. Hamden Police Chief John Cappiello recommended Eaton’s termination — one of BSD’s goals — following an internal investigation. However, a judge granted an injunction, preventing any action until the end of criminal proceedings.
“Yale places a priority on the safety and security of all members of the community,” wrote Peart in an email to the News on behalf of other University officials. “The tragedies, including mass shootings, that have occurred on other campuses in past years remind us that YPD officers must be fully prepared to respond in a timely fashion to any life-threatening emergency situation that might arise on campus.”
Peart added that officers who carry firearms must complete intensive training sessions on topics including multicultural awareness, recognizing mental illness and employing de-escalation techniques.
Yale also hired 21CP Solutions — a consulting group focused on police best practices and community-based policing — to evaluate and improve YPD’s services and its relationship with residents of New Haven. BSD has demanded that the University publicly release the results of both Rogers’ internal investigation and 21CP’s administrative review.
Griffin cleared Pollock of any criminal charges in a report published in October of last year, a conclusion the University incorporated in its decision to reinstate Pollock. In addition to Griffin’s determination, Yale included Pollock’s 17 years with YPD, the officer’s “behavior before, during and after the shooting” and Yale’s internal policies as factors in the ultimate decision.
“I believe that we have reached a fair decision — one that addresses concerns about safety while allowing us to continue to benefit from the valuable contributions of a long-serving police officer who has much to offer in a new role,” Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Janet Lindner said in the Dec. 20 press release announcing Pollock’s suspension. “Chief Higgins and I are working closely with our Yale police officers to ensure that we emerge as a more effective police department as a result of this self-study.”
The Yale Police Department is located at 101 Ashmun St.
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