Community members gave testimony on Aug. 15 at a Hamden, Connecticut, Legislative Council meeting to demand justice for Stephanie Washington, a victim of police violence.
At 4:30 a.m. on April 16, 2019, Hamden and Yale police officers surrounded the car of Washington and her then-partner Paul Witherspoon III in the Newhallville neighborhood of New Haven, Connecticut. When the couple attempted to exit the vehicle, the police opened fire without warning. Washington was critically injured. She needed 22 staples in her stomach, and still has a scar on her forehead from a glancing bullet. Witherspoon was traumatized, though unharmed physically.
“From the time that the shooting happened, I have felt like my life and everything I’ve worked for, everything I’ve created in myself — my confidence, my independence — were all stolen from me. I felt like a disappointment,” said Washington, in her personal testimony to the council. “I’m scared to live my life in fear that this will happen again.”
Community members demanded that the city approve a more substantial settlement in Washington’s lawsuit against them. Previously, the city offered just $10,000, which comes nowhere close to covering the costs of her medical bills.
The ‘triple occupation’ of Newhallville
After the police shooting in 2019, the response from New Haven and Hamden communities was loud and immediate. People were outraged that two unarmed civilians had nearly been executed. On top of this, people saw no explanation for the involvement of Hamden police officers, who had been called to back up the New Haven PD.
Predominately populated by Black residents, Newhallville suffers a “triple occupation” of heightened police presence. The neighborhood is in New Haven, yet police from not only New Haven but also Hamden and Yale are often in the neighborhood. Due to Yale’s gentrifying presence in downtown New Haven and its spread across the city, the armed and deputized Yale police have had free rein across the city since the signing of a 1992 Memorandum of Understanding. The Hamden Police Department has a similar agreement with New Haven for bordering neighborhoods.
For four days after the shooting, protests shut down major roads and intersections. Hundreds of community members from both New Haven and Hamden rallied in front of their police departments, demanding an end to police terror. Organizations like Black Lives Matter New Haven, People Against Police Brutality, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Hamden Action Now, Black and Brown United in Action led protesters through marches and occupations.
Indigenous elder Norm Clement with the ANSWER Coalition — Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, testified at the Connecticut Legislative Council meeting at Hamden Town Hall: “Police brutality has been endemic in this country for centuries. Protecting property has always been the main function of the police. On the night that Stephanie was brutally assaulted by Hamden police officer Devon Eaton, that was exactly what was happening. A business owner made a complaint, and the police responded with force.”
Representatives of Hamden Action Now also testified. “There’s another problem here we have to face. A big elephant in the room,” said Rhonda Caldwell. “It’s about a culture of violence against Black women. It’s about an ongoing [component] of your culture that says ‘Black women deserve what they get.’ And honestly, when you don’t give justice to Stephanie, [you’re saying] you believe she deserved what she got that day.”
Justice for Stephanie and Paul!