A meeting to discuss the fate of the Yale Police Department has been put on hold for nearly a month as University administrators and members of the campus group Black Students for Disarmament at Yale debate the terms of the conversation.
In late September, leaders of BSDY published an open letter calling on the University to defund and dismantle its private police force. One day after the letter’s publication, on Sept. 24, Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83 LAW ’86 and Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun offered to meet with the students who authored the letter. But in response to BSDY’s recent reminder of their original intent to include community members in the meeting, the University gave BSDY two options the day before the meeting: the original date of Oct. 9 without the community members, or a future date with them. BSDY members chose the latter, but as of Oct. 22, the University has not responded with a date.
The two parties disagree on the reasons for the hold-up. The student leaders say that they were clear on their hopes to bring organizers from the New Haven community from the beginning, which they state in an initial email to the administration shared with the News. Despite the email, the University claims that while administrators want to meet with the students, BSDY leaders did not originally disclose that they wanted “a public meeting, involving non-students.” Since the University postponed the meeting, the students’ two most recent emails have gone unanswered.
“We are honestly just frustrated and fed up with the Yale Administration,” BSDY Executive Director Jaelen King ’22 wrote in an email to the News. “We are going to continue to talk about and push for our demands in order to support the New Haven community; hopefully, the administration will soon join the cause.”
In the open letter, the students called on Yale to immediately disarm the YPD, implement a differential response system, defund and dismantle the YPD by 2023 and reinvest the department’s budget in local organizations that uplift communities of color. They also explained their willingness to “partner with local community activists” and engage in conversation with the University.
Goff-Crews wrote the initial email inviting students to speak directly to her and Chun, saying that the students’ engagement was “deeply valued” as the University reshapes its police force.
In an email to the News, University spokesperson Karen Peart said administrators are always open to holding discussions with students. BSDY organizers have previously met with Yale administrators, including YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins, she added. But, in an interview with the News, Chun said he is only supposed to talk to students at Yale College — not organizers outside of the University.
Peart emphasized that the meeting is not cancelled, but will instead occur at a future, undetermined date.
“In arranging the meeting, the University learned that the group planned to invite non-students and to record the conversation,” Peart wrote. “While those were not the agreed-upon terms, the University will honor its offer to meet with the students at a later date.”
But King told the News that BSDY had “clearly” explained their terms in a Sept. 26 email. He added that “the initial open letter stated that the group wanted to include community organizers.”
“We as the Black Students for Disarmament at Yale are willing to partner with local community activists to have open conversations with the Yale administration on how we can accomplish these demands,” the letter read.
In the emails between students and administrators, which the News has reviewed, the University asked in a Sept. 25 email which students would join the call. The students responded the following day and said they planned to have community organizers present during the meeting. The emails show that the University set aside several blocks of time for the meeting and remained open to the conversation in the weeks leading up to the Oct. 9 meeting.
The day before the meeting was set to occur, the University sent the Zoom link and added that recording the conversation was prohibited. Ten minutes later, the students responded, saying again that community organizers would be present and that they hoped to record the meeting after asking for permission. That same day, administrators replied and said that other University leaders who “directly oversee public safety and work with the New Haven community” would need to be present if the students hoped to bring leaders from New Haven.
After Salovey announced the creation of a committee that will advise him on changing public safety at Yale last Wednesday, the University suggested the students instead meet with the new committee. BSDY organizers replied that same day, saying they hoped to have both meetings. They sent a follow-up on Oct. 19, and have not yet received a reply.
“They have acted as though us inviting community organizers was a big surprise, when in reality, we made it very clear from the beginning that we wanted community voices present in any meeting we had,” King told the News. “Also, since bringing up the fact that organizers will be present, the administration’s tone has changed greatly, and they have also just become non responsive. … The administration has a responsibility to listen to all voices in regards to their police department, especially those of community members who are primarily targeted.”
Some of the community organizers who were to attend include Rhonda Caldwell of Hamden Action Now, Ala Ochumare of Black Lives Matter New Haven and Jeannia Fu of the Connecticut Bail Fund.
Caldwell told the News that she is not surprised that the University postponed the meeting. She added that Yale students, alumni and the New Haven community have to hold the school accountable for its “disregard” of Elm City residents.
“[The University] pretends to be this beacon of progressiveness, but they’re really not and it’s disheartening,” Caldwell said. “They’re not socially connected and aware of what their actions are and they don’t think [their actions] should have any consequences either.”
Ochumare said that the University has contributed to the instability of New Haven. She cited its police presence and practices of gentrification as part of what she believes is its racist oppression of the city.
“We were hoping to add community context and hopefully humanize the folx who make up this city to the humans who hold unimaginable power,” Ochumare told the News in an email. “With this cancellation, it is evident that [the University] views our community with apathy and loathing. We were seeking to humanize the ask of [BSDY], which … is the divestment of policing on Yale’s campus and an investment into the City of New Haven.”
Peart said in an email to the News that the University “values” its relationship to the Elm City. She referred to what the University says is its “active role” in supporting New Haveners, such as when it founded the Yale Community for New Haven Fund in March. The program has distributed over $2 million to local nonprofits in the wake of the pandemic.
She also said that the University is a nonprofit that is exempt from paying property taxes on academic properties, but still invests in the community through programs like its annual voluntary $12-million contribution to the city.
“Yale is also New Haven’s largest employer, with nearly 14,000 faculty and staff,” Peart added. “We will continue to stand united with and working in concert with New Haven.”
The YPD is the oldest university police force.
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