Lukas Flippo, Photography Editor
In April 2019, a Hamden police officer and Yale police officer shot at two Black residents, Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon — sparking citywide protests over police brutality. More than two years later, hundreds of protestors marched through the streets once again, chanting “No Justice No Peace” and demanding the abolition of the police.
Sunday’s march, “A Rally for All Victims of Police Violence,” began at New Haven City Hall and ended at the Yale Police Department headquarters. The event was facilitated by organizers from the Central Connecticut branch of the Democratic Socialists of America, including Hamden councilman Justin Farmer. Community activists and organizations who spoke at the march included Rhonda Caldwell of Hamden Action Now, Concerned and Organized Graduate Students at Yale, Sunrise New Haven, the New Haven Sex Workers and Allies Network and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
Protestors demanded justice for victims of police brutality, such as Adam Toledo and Daunte Wright. They also called for the dismantling of the Yale Police Department and asked the University to further invest in the New Haven community.
“Yale refuses the need and the right of New Haven residents to feel safe in the place that they live,” Abigail Fields GRD ’24, an organizer with COGS said at the rally. “The YPD was established to protect Yale property of its white male students. This was always motivated by racial, ethnic and gender biases, and it’s no better now.”
COGS is a member group of the Abolition Alliance at Yale — a coalition that formed in June 2020 to demand the abolishment of YPD. COGS contributed to the coalition’s report on the YPD’s activities earlier this month. In her speech, Fields reiterated many of the key points that were made in AAY’s report — such as the fact that in 2019, the most common calls to the YPD were requests for officers to transport checks around New Haven.
YPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story. Yale administrators and YPD leadership have rejected calls to abolish the YPD in the past.
“I believe that we need a police,” University President Peter Salovey said in an October interview with the News. “We need a police force because we need to prevent crimes against persons and property on campus. We need to be able to pursue people who’ve committed crimes and arrest them.”
Karolina Ksiazek, advocacy director of the New Haven Sex Workers & Allies Network, also claimed that police departments were ineffective in the city. In her speech, Ksiazek stressed that many sex workers fear the police and that officers often perpetuate harm against sex workers.
“Most people are afraid to come forward because they know that the police hold so much power, they are afraid of retribution,” Ksiazek said, “So many of these people are on the streets all day and they know that the police can make up excuses to arrest them and take away their harm reduction supplies.”
Ksiazek cited the example of former New Haven police officer Gary Gammara, who resigned after he was accused of raping two sex workers in Fair Haven. Ksiazek expressed further outrage over the decision of the State’s Attorney’s Office not to prosecute the case. She questioned why an organization that claimed to advocate for public safety could not prevent its officers from assaulting and harassing vulnerable people.
Jaeana Bethea, an advocate for the Sunrise Movement environmental justice group, also called to abolish the police and reallocate their funding into education and affordable housing. Bethea claimed that because the police are “reactionary”, they do not prevent crime — rather, focus on its consequences. Bethea argued that investment in social services focusing on education, health care and employment would more meaningfully address crime in the city.
Near the end of the rally, Hamden councilman Justin Farmer, spoke on behalf of the Central CT DSA as its chairman. Farmer highlighted the tensions that have existed between communities of color and the police historically, and spoke about the connection between police terror and capitalism.
“It was capitalism that divided our communities and told us to fight amongst each other for scraps … that said not to invest in our communities, that we are not equal, that we cannot come together,” Farmer said.
The Yale Police Department was founded in 1894.
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Correction, Apr. 19: An earlier version of this story referred to Bethea as “Diana Petia.” The story has been updated with the correct spelling of her name. The News regrets the error.