I, Reverend Kelcy Steele, am a Black New Haven advocate against racial injustice and lead pastor of Varick Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, a community affiliate to the Yale Department of Psychiatry through the IMANI Breakthrough program, which provides faith-based substance use recovery. I write alongside Rhonda Caldwell, a local activist and founder of Hamden Action Now. We approach the Yale University community today with grave concerns regarding policing Black and Brown New Haven neighborhoods and persons with chronic mental illness through the Connecticut Mental Health Center, or CMHC.
CMHC uses Connecticut state tax dollars to serve individuals with Medicaid, Medicare or no insurance — populations overrepresented by Black and Brown communities in addition to persons with chronic mental illness due to systemic discrimination. CMHC is also a primary psychiatry educational site for the Yale School of Medicine and multiple universities training in nursing, social work, pastoral care, psychiatric research and more. Privileged Yale trainees benefitting from an over-policed community clinic serving historically redlined, underprivileged neighborhoods like Newhallville, Fair Haven and the Hill, continues Yale’s legacy of disenfranchising local communities.
One of the first things encountered at CMHC’s entrance are walk-through metal detectors, unarmed patrol officers and state police officers armed with guns. We were greatly disturbed upon reading an official policy from last month announcing the addition of a prison-like conveyor belt with x-ray screening anytime someone enters the premises — including patients, trainees, staff or faculty — with language of police intimidation should anyone refuse compliance. There have been no major safety incidents at CMHC since one stabbing in the early 1990s, and this escalation comes despite a petition from 2020 with sustained cries of racial injustice from the community alongside Yale trainees and faculty. This is even more alarming given today’s social justice movements toward ending the police killings of Black citizens and those with mental illness, including the West Haven police killing last year of a young Black man with schizophrenia, Mubarak Soulemane. The conveyor belt was halted, resulting from community efforts including a second petition and forums hosted by Hamden Action Now. Next, we address the persisting guns.
CMHC funds security expenses yet still uses paper charts circa 1980s — despite the pandemic necessitating telework since March 2020 — with multiple failed attempts to fund a modern electronic medical record better equipped for telehealth and coordinating with Yale New Haven Hospital. For health care trainees, this is likely the only time in their impressionable medical education where they rotate at a site with a prison-like entrance… the site treating Black and Brown communities with mental illness. People with mental illness are not studied to be more violent than anyone else, yet the front door primes trainees to stigmatize patients of color and people with mental illness as being dangerous and meriting antiquated health care technology. This translates into the next generation of well-known health care disparities devastating these same demographics due to racism and bias.
Armed police at CMHC stands in stark contrast to the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, multiple other health care associations and cities across Connecticut recognizing racism as a public health emergency. Furthermore, the APA published a 2018 position statement that: “The American Psychiatric Association does not support the use of weapons as a clinical response in the management of patient behavioral dyscontrol in emergency room and inpatient settings because such use conflicts with the therapeutic mission of hospitals.” CMHC is predominantly a place of outpatient services — a lower acuity than emergency departments or inpatient units — which further casts shadows of racism and bias to its tremendous policing. There exists no robust national data supporting the “safety benefits” of policing outpatient clinics, yet we are surrounded every day by evidence that such police encounters are an unjust deterrent to persons seeking health care and inflict trauma upon the marginalized communities CMHC is supposed to be serving. Guards with guns are notably absent at other outpatient clinics, whether for physical or mental health, likely because there is less segregation between the privately and publicly insured.
Listed below are the community and Yale School of Medicine affiliates who endorse disarming CMHC, with more endorsements to come. If truly the Yale School of Medicine wishes to be a national leader in health equity — like the recent creation of the Health Equity Thread in undergraduate medical education — then every training site is responsible for providing a diverse, equitable, inclusive and technologically competent learning environment. Medical education and New Haven demand better of the Connecticut Mental Health Center.
Yale School of Medicine:
Yale Solomon Carter Fuller Association – Department of Psychiatry
Yale Medical Student Psychiatric Association
Concerned and Organized Graduate Students (COGS)
Computational Biomedicine Interest Group
Addiction Medicine Collaborative
Global Health Interest Group
Physician-Administration Collaborative (PACt)
OBGYN Interest Group
Students Helping Students Interest Group
Yale Health Policy Interest Group
White Coats 4 Black Lives
Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association
Committee for Diversity Inclusion and Social Justice
History, Health, and Humanities Interest Group
US Health Justice Collaborative
Yale Internal Medicine Traditional Chiefs
Child Psychiatry Interest Group
Student National Medical Association Chapter at Yale School of Medicine
Latino Medical Student Association Chapter at Yale School of Medicine
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Association of Women Surgeons
Computational Biomedicine Interest Group
Black and Brown United in Action
Sunrise New Haven
CT Bail Fund
Sex Workers Alliance Network (SWAN)
Disability Rights CT
Seeds and Sprouts
People’s Medics of New Haven
Hamden Action Now