“What do we need? We need more resources! What do we need? We need more resources! What do we need? We need more resources! What do we need? We need more resources!”
We are all too familiar with the pain and suffering that police hand out under the guise of “protection” and “service.” Be it the bullet-ridden body — we love you, Breonna Taylor — or the breathless body — we mourn you, George Floyd — we are constantly reminded of how systemic, purposeful and inevitable police violence is. But of the many chants cried out at the June 13 protest against the Yale Police Department (YPD), the one reiterated above embodies the truest spirit of police abolition.
In a recent article that advocated removing officers from grade schools, writer and social-justice activist Asha Bandele writes, “untethering ourselves from the police… is the only thing we can do if we want to ensure the safety of our children.” Regardless of your position on policing in America, ask yourself, “What does safety look like?” This concept is often measured by bodily autonomy and security — birthrights that law enforcement too frequently strips away from Black and Brown people. But police abolition invites us to consider the many freedoms that are limited by overbearing and overfunded police systems: including Yale’s.
A recent 21st Century Policing report found that from its inception, the Yale Police Department has been charged with monitoring public space for the private interest of “secur[ing] Yale’s properties, research and assets.” Consequently, as Yale stretched further into New Haven, so did its private militia. This is evidenced in a Memorandum of Understanding that gives YPD jurisdiction over all of New Haven, but does not also provide a means of holding the department accountable to anyone but itself. So when we hear from two students of color that YPD officers accused them of trespassing in May of this year, it not only exposes which race and class Yale wishes to keep safe, but also reminds us that the liberties of New Haveners are so easily foregone, even as they traverse through their own city:
What does safety look like?
When YPD patrols blocks away from campus, shoots at an unarmed Black couple, addresses only the student body and never the city, delays the publication of its private investigation until the nation is on fire and refuses to heed the community it so habitually intrudes upon, it inevitably scares Black and Brown people. We realize that Yale cares more about the security of its property than the security of the different people the institution comes into contact with.
What does safety look like?
New Haven’s entire operating budget is less than 10 percent of Yale’s endowment, but we spend over $10 million on a privately owned, privately funded and unaccountable police force. The welfare of an already privileged group seems to mean more than the liberation of the city we actively harm. While New Haven community members lament that they “need more resources,” Chief Ronnell Higgins responds by advocating for de-escalation training, reporting excessive force and resetting patrol routes: actions that may endow our neighbors with a basic right to keep breathing, but do nothing to improve the quality of their breaths.
Whose safety matters?
To disrupt this institution’s reliance on policing for social control, and in an effort to realize true welfare for Black and Brown students and New Haveners alike, Black Students for Disarmament at Yale (BSDY) presents and defends the following demands:
- Immediately disarm the Yale Police Department;
- Implement a robust Differential Response System devoid of police officers by the end of the 2020–21 Academic School Year;
- Begin defunding the Yale Police Department immediately so that it can be dismantled by 2023;
- Reinvest these funds to support New Haven organizations that protect, serve and uplift Black and Brown communities.
These demands carry the spirit of police abolition by refusing minimalist reforms, and instead promote free and fruitful life for all vulnerable groups. We recognize that an immediate disbanding of the YPD would compromise the functions of the city, campus and lives of officers within the department. However, we must take intentional steps towards achieving our unrelenting demands to ensure the safety and well-being of groups who are directly harmed by YPD’s existence.
By disarming, the YPD relinquishes its authority to inflict fear and harm on a campus that does not require constant use of high-grade weaponry, and on a community that it is immune from answering to. To those concerned about campus safety, the highest form of force is incongruent with most of our needs, which should inspire us to consider proactively de-escalated (differential) response systems. YPD receives more calls for non-violent property crime than any other offense, an issue that does not require weaponized responses and to which Chief Higgins has already committed to finding alternative response methods.
More importantly, combatting Yale’s culture of sexual violence requires us to advocate for systems that properly support survivors. Yale’s 2019 report on sexual misconduct shows that an overwhelming amount of sexual assault cases were brought to and handled by the Title IX office instead of YPD, for the evident reason that badges and guns are ill-equipped to begin, and follow through with, the process of healing. Students and faculty need no longer depend on a militarized body that we infrequently interact with and rarely need for issues of public safety.
On the question of defunding and reinvestment, we must imagine what other forms of safety are made available in a YPD-less world: funds to hire and adequately pay more counselors and social workers in underprivileged schools; contributions to the fight against hunger and homelessness and the creation of more affordable housing opportunities; investments in psychiatric intervention for people suffering from mental illness instead of asking law enforcement, an entity whose happiest medium is violence, to respond to those in need of mental and emotional support. New Haven deserves, and Yale can do, better.
We can no longer allow the YPD to protect and serve the interests of Yale University at the expense of Black and Brown students and community members. Yale proclaims to uphold “light and truth;” it is time we held it accountable to that standard.
To learn more about BSDY and to get involved, check out defundypd.com.
ADDEE KIM is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. JAELEN KING is a sophomore in Benjamin Franklin College. Contact him at email@example.com. ISAAC YEARWOOD is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The authors write on behalf of Black Students for Disarmament at Yale (BSDY).
While the News is not currently in production, we have scheduled a series of pieces in light of recent national protests to provide a space for students to share their voices.