On Thursday afternoon, nearly 150 students, faculty members and New Haven community members attended a virtual teach-in to learn about Black Students for Disarmament at Yale.
BSDY, an undergraduate student coalition, aims to disarm and defund the Yale Police Department. The teach-in, moderated by the Concerned and Organized Graduate Students or COGS at Yale, comes a week after BSDY penned an open letter to Yale administrators explaining their call to abolish the YPD. Organizers and administrators plan to meet within the next week.
“To think that policing has to exist just because it has existed is intellectually lazy,” said BSDY organizer Teigist Taye ’22. “How about we actively reimagine safety?”
BSDY’s teach-in is the third in a series of virtual events seeking to promote the BSDY’s platform to members of the Yale and New Haven communities.
The coalition’s key demands include asking administrators to immediately disarm the Yale Police Department, implement a robust response network of social services to take the YPD’s place and begin defunding the YPD so that it can be entirely dismantled by 2023. BSDY is also advocating for reallocating the YPD budget to local New Haven organizations that support communities of color.
“The Black Students for Disarmament at Yale have done tremendous research on the history of the Yale Police Department,” said Lisa Lowe, professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Race and Migration at Yale. “At this teach-in and others, they are asking serious questions about the role of YPD, the necessity of their armed methods, about whether YPD is necessary for safety and if the community can imagine safety differently.”
BSDY’s platform has continued to gain traction following a historic summer of Black Lives Matter activism as protests against police violence have swept the nation –– including in New Haven and Connecticut. Furthermore, BSDY’s petition, sent to University administrators alongside the coalition’s open letter, has garnered over 8,000 signatures.
Last Thursday, University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83 LAW ’86 emailed BSDY to set up a meeting with herself, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun and BSDY leaders. The meeting is scheduled to take place within the next two weeks.
However, BSDY told the News that they were committed to including New Haven activists and leaders in the meeting as well.
“We want to give community organizers a voice, but Yale has barely talked to them,” Callie Benson-Williams ’23 said. “They have almost said nothing to the community, even though Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon are members of the community.”
BSDY formed last April after a YPD officer and a Hamden Police Department officer fired at Washington and Witherspoon — a Black couple sitting in their car.
For their teach-in, BSDY partnered with Yale graduate students organizing under the banner coalition COGS.
“A lot of COGS members were eager to think through what organized graduate students would be able to contribute to abolition efforts at Yale,” Victoria Baena GSAS ’21 noted. “Our role is to support and amplify existing work being done by the BSDY.”
In Thursday’s presentation, BSDY claimed that the YPD has conducted multiple other instances of racial profiling — linking a list in their petition of “YPD instances against the community.”
“As a longtime member of both the Yale and New Haven communities, I hear from people across the spectrum,” Yale Chief of Police Ronnell Higgins wrote in an emailed statement to the News. “I am open to having the BSDY work to join us in co-producing a safe campus.”
Benson-Williams added that she does not expect the YPD to carry out BDSY’s demands but hopes for an increase in substantive communication with the department. She said that often, the YPD’s response consists of articles with little data “talking loosely about police brutality.”
“The members of Yale Public Safety are committed to implementing the recommendations made by 21CP in their [March] report, which is publicly available,” wrote Higgins in his email to the News.
21CP refers to Twenty-First Century Policing –– a consulting firm Yale hired to independently assess the YPD last year, after YPD officer Terrance Pollock fired shots at Washington and Witherspoon.
However, on Thursday, BSDY organizers argued that few reforms short of total abolition will stop police departments from “still killing Black people.”
“The Defund the Police at Yale Teach-in and BSDY demonstrate for us how careful and sophisticated the work and the thinking around defunding really is,” said Roderick Ferguson, professor of Womens, Gender and Sexuality Studies and American Studies, who attended the event.
At the teach-in, organizers spoke about the “racialized history” of the YPD. Yale Law Professor Elizabeth Hinton said that policing at the college was about protecting University property and not its students. Founded in 1894, Yale’s police department was the first campus police department in America.
Hinton argued that since then, the purpose of the YPD has been to “pay police to stop trouble before it starts” and “harass” students of color.
The 2020 Yale Public Safety operating budget is $34.9 million.
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