Courtesy of Robert Lucas

The New Haven Police Department is currently investigating a series of racist and antisemitic flyers targeting Robert Lucas SOM ’23 that were distributed along Whitney Avenue last month.

The flyers —which were folded into plastic bags and dropped throughout New Haven’s East Rock neighborhood and southern Hamden — featured a variety of racist and antisemitic language. Specifically, the flyers took issue with Lucas’s push to rename Whitney Avenue after Edward Bouchet, the first Black person to receive a doctorate in the United States, who graduated from Yale with a PhD in physics in 1876.

“It certainly was concerning,” Lucas said of the flyers. “It’s disturbing but not deterring.” 

Lucas, who is not Jewish, was informed of the flyers by Yale Police. According to New Haven Police Department Assistant Police Chief Bertram Ettienne, the NHPD is continuing to investigate who created and distributed the flyers, and has asked the FBI to assist in the investigation. 

One section of the flyer reads, “Jews like Robert Lucas continue to spew their anti-White hatred toward Whites and insists Whites feel guilty for slavery.” The flyers focus on a theory — often cited by white supremacists — that Jewish people were primarily responsible for slavery in the United States. That belief has long been debunked by professional historians. The flyers were very similar in design and content, and had the same email listed at the bottom as antisemitic flyers found in Stamford, Connecticut in March. 

At a press conference convened by local elected, faith and community leaders on April 5, East Rock resident Paul Wessel described finding a flyer outside his house one morning.

“There are other people who are willing to serve up somebody who’s the cause of their ills. Sometimes they point to Black people, sometimes they point to brown people, sometimes to transgender people, sometimes to immigrants,” Wessel said. “And it’s all intended to divide us in ways that are not helpful and aren’t who we are.” 

Both New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker and Hamden Mayor Lauren Garrett were in attendance at the press conference. The mayors strongly condemned the incident and emphasized their rejection of any and all hate within their respective municipalities.

“It is hurtful to our community members, it is hurtful to people to walk out of their door and see this kind of crap in front of their door,” Garrett said. “So I’m here today to stand against hate.”

The flyering occurred amid a surge of antisemitic hate crimes in Connecticut. According to an audit by the Connecticut chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, 2022 saw a doubling of antisemitic incidents in the state from the year before. 

Rabbi Brian Immerman of Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden praised the outpouring of community support he had seen in response to the flyers, and spoke about the importance of solidarity in the face of hate. 

“I am incredibly grateful for everybody standing here who is standing with the Jewish community today to say no to antisemitism and that it is not acceptable in any form,” he said. “Jews are not afraid of antisemitism. We protect ourselves from it.”

The targeting of Lucas comes as the graduate student has stepped up his campaign in recent months for both Yale and New Haven to “rethink Eli Whitney.”

Lucas penned an op-ed in the News in February, arguing for the renaming of Whitney Avenue. In the article, he highlights the impact Whitney’s invention — the cotton gin — had on the production of cotton in the American South, and how that greatly increased the demand for enslaved labor in the United States. Lucas also discussed another Whitney invention — the Colt revolver — a weapon instrumental in the federal government’s westward expansion and theft of Native land.

In March, Lucas sent a letter to the Board of Alders, asking them to formally consider changing the name of Whitney Avenue. He told the News that he has also reached out to the faculty chair of the Eli Whitney Scholars Program and is waiting to hear back from a University advisory committee on the matter.

As for renaming the street after Bouchet, Lucas is in favor of but not committed to the idea of using Bouchet’s name.

Bouchet is great. It’s really not only changing the street name,” he told the New Haven Independent in March. “To bring about change, you at least have to agree there’s a problem.” 

The School of Management is currently located at 165 Whitney Ave.

Nathaniel Rosenberg is City Editor for the News. He previously served as Audience Editor, where he managed the News's newsletter content, covered cops and courts and housing and homelessness for the City Desk. Originally from Silver Spring, MD, he is a junior in Morse College majoring in history.