Voices on Justice

Voices on Justice

Published on April 26, 2019

Reflections after the officer-involved shooting of Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon

In the early hours of Tuesday, April 16, 22-year-old Stephanie Washington and 21-year-old Paul Witherspoon were shot on Dixwell Avenue in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood by two police officers, Devin Eaton and Terrance Pollack of the Hamden Police Department and Yale Police Department, respectively.

On April 18, more than 500 New Haven residents, Yalies and community activists closed down the intersection of Broadway and York Street for hours, as they gathered in a large circle and sang, chanted and shared stories to demand justice for Washington and Witherspoon. Afterwards, they marched through New Haven streets, shutting down major thoroughfares as they moved and rallied until midnight.

Since then, community members and activists have continued to organize.

The News is publishing the unedited reflections of invested and involved individuals and groups on what the shooting — and the community response in its aftermath — means to them.

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Barbara Fair

The recent police shooting which occurred in New Haven could easily have turned deadly for two young unarmed people. Police violence is becoming too familiar in Black and Brown communities across this state. Policing in suburbia mirrors “protect and serve” while in urban centers it’s strictly about enforcing the law. The history of policing in the South sheds light on why Black and Brown people are policed differently. Policing there began as “slave patrols.”  Although later professionalized, the practice of controlling Black people has not changed. Reforming policing in America is equivalent to putting lipstick on a pig and pretending it’s no longer a pig.

On any given day in the media we witness unarmed Black men, women and children being beaten, shot and killed. The common narrative that police lives are at risk should mirror the reality that the lives of people of color are at risk each time they interact with police. Police are supposed to be trained professionals and yet what we witnessed a week ago were two out of control, highly impulsive officers who, within seconds of leaving their patrol cars, fired multiple shots into a car where two young people sat. Did he think he was in a war zone? Luckily there were no deadly consequences.

There are many questions left unanswered in the investigation. Changes need to be made immediately. Yale needs to be stripped of badges that give them the power to police New Haven. They need to police Yale. We may need to take another look at regional policing. Too many times it has run amok. The officers should not be sitting at home with pay waiting for the completion of an investigation that could take three months. The videos are all the evidence they need to be fired. They are liabilities and dangerous for the city. Neither was in compliance with body cam policy. They should be charged with reckless endangerment and treated like the criminals they are. We can’t allow any community to become a war zone, and we can’t allow officers to avoid consequences of misconduct. To do so undermines respect for the rule of law. We should not accept anything less than justice for these two people and countless others who have experienced police violence.

Barbara Fair is a New Haven activist.

***

Black Students for Disarmament at Yale

Justice for Stephanie Washington. Justice for Paul Witherspoon.

Black Students for Disarmament at Yale (BSDxY) would like to take the opportunity to thank the YDN for giving us the chance to speak directly to the Yale and greater New Haven community in an unedited manner, thereby allowing our message to be conveyed in the most effective way.

BSDxY is a group of Black undergraduate students who, in the late hours following a 7+ hour rally on Thursday April 19, 2019, deemed it necessary to take a strong stance alongside New Haven in its fight for justice for Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon. We were moved by the spirit of New Haven organizers and sought a means of using our privilege as Yale students to uplift the voices of those affected by this injustice.

We have been working to mobilize Yale students to support the efforts of neighboring community activist organizations such as People Against Police Brutality and Black Lives Matter New Haven, with the common goal of securing justice for Stephanie and Paul. Also, in recognizing the role that Yale has continuously played in perpetuating injustice in New Haven’s predominantly Black and Brown communities, we have made 3 public demands of the Yale Administration and Yale Police Department:

1) Immediately terminate the employment of officer Terrance Pollock.

2) Disarm the Yale Police Department.

3) Restrict the Yale Police Department’s patrol area to a reasonable definition of “campus.”

A 16-year-old veteran of the police force who fails to employ proper de-escalation tactics or understand the necessity of turning on a body camera should not be allowed to carry a lethal weapon and deserves to be fired. The city of New Haven has its own public police department that serves as a model of community policing around the country and does not need an additional private armed police force in the form of YPD. Yale law enforcement’s tenure of endangering and encroaching on a community whose land it already intrudes upon must come to an end.

We as BSDxY will continue to pressure the Yale administration until it fully recognizes the abuses it has perpetuated on the New Haven community and speedily moves toward remedying this specific incident and instituting comprehensive and effective policy reform.

No Justice. No Peace.

Black Students for Disarmament at Yale is a group of Black undergraduates formed in the wake of the shooting of Stephanie and Paul.

***

Chris Garaffa

On April 14, a few dozen community members gathered on Grand Avenue to mark the 22nd anniversary of the murder of Malik Jones at the hands of East Haven police, who chased him into New Haven and killed him just a block from his mother’s home. Emma Jones’ work since 1997 has been a centerpiece of the movement against police terror in the city and the state. Because of her work and the tireless struggle in our community, New Haven is finally in the process of putting together a Civilian Review Board to oversee the NHPD.

Two days later, New Haven woke up to the news that Hamden and Yale police had shot up a car on Dixwell Avenue — far from Yale’s campus, and not in Hamden. As others have said, this area is under a triple occupation: The NHPD, YPD and HPD routinely terrorize the neighborhood.

When we talk about justice for Stephanie and Paul, we are also calling for justice for every victim of police brutality. There are countless stories of police misconduct in Black and Latinx neighborhoods across the city. These stories need to be told, and people need to listen to them.

Over the course of the last week, hundreds of people took to the streets night after night to question not only why Hamden PD were in New Haven to begin with, but why Yale needs its own police department — complete with armed officers and even a SWAT team.

In a just world, a university in the middle of a city would not need a militarized presence. Yale has a $29+ billion endowment built on the backs of people of color locally — indigenous people and slaves — as well as those in exploited nations in the global South. Yale does not contribute to creating a just or equitable world. The YPD exists as an extension of the NHPD as an oppressive force, aiding in the gentrification of the city for the benefit of Yale and its partner landlords.

In 1970, when members of the Black Panther Party were on trial in New Haven, Yale students and workers forced the campus to shut down normal business and open its doors to accommodate tens of thousands of protesters for May Day. “That Panther and that Bulldog gonna move together!” was a popular slogan of the movement. This spirit is being revived today.

The Yale Police Department must be recognized for what it is — a terrorist force for gentrification. It must be dismantled entirely. The YPD budget should be spent on creating jobs programs and building adequate housing in the neighborhoods that Yale has impacted the most. It’s well past time for Yale to give back to the city it has taken so much from. Our mobilizations have been a bright light in a dark time, but we cannot let that spark burn out. We must turn this moment into a united, powerful, multiracial movement for real justice.

Chris Garaffa is a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which helped organize rallies in the wake of the shooting.

***

Joshua Cayetano

As Yale students, we must ask ourselves, “Is my safety ensured at the expense of someone else’s?” In light of this shooting, the answer should be an unequivocal yes.

Does Yale Police Department serve us? They are (supposed to be) committed to our protection and our well-being. They are a full-fledged police force —  armed, equipped with a license-to-kill, and offered the full protection of the state. Yet, unlike a normal police department, YPD is not accountable to the people it professes to serve. There is no requirement of transparency. There is not even an enforced requirement of community engagement.

This week I learned that, over the course of the year, the Graduate and Professional Student Senate asked Chief Higgins to participate in a public forum in response to multiple incidents of racist policing on campus. He did not do so.

Even if we do receive a public hearing, there is no guarantee our voices will be heard. If the University does not show up to a meeting without a commitment to reform its policing practices, there will only be more broken promises, more expansion of YDP into neighborhoods already fighting gentrification and more incidents of police brutality that could have been prevented.

I, for one, will not allow my safety to be ensured at the expense of my fellow neighbor.

Joshua Cayetano DIV ’20 is a first-year student at the Yale Divinity School.

***

Kahlil Greene

Police brutality has been an important topic on campus and in national conversation. Unfortunately, New Haven and the areas nearby have a history of incidents like this — notably the cases of Malik Jones in 1997, Jayson Negron in 2017 and Jarelle Gibbs in 2018. It’s especially disheartening to students to see Yale officers perpetrate this violence against members of the New Haven community.

Because this problem affects both Yale students and New Haven residents, I believe that the solution will stem from both of these groups coming together, and I am so proud to have seen students and residents standing side-by-side last week. I hope that discussions surrounding the role and tactics of the YPD continue to be pushed and that the administration begins to actively engage with those leading these discussions — especially the Black and brown residents of New Haven that have been doing so for years.

The way the University deals with the case of Stephanie Washington will play a critical role in the relationship between New Haven and Yale moving forward.

Kahlil Greene ’21 is the incoming President of the Yale College Council and a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College.

***

Contact angela.xiao@yale.edu and sammy.westfall@yale.edu with any questions about this piece.

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