New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker is among the many political officials across Connecticut who are trying to distance themselves from the state’s long history and ever present epidemic of racist police terror. On May 29, in his first statement on the wave of protests that have spread across the country following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, Elicker hollowly acknowledged that “we’ve struggled with racism in our community” but said, “New Haven is not Minneapolis. Connecticut is not Minnesota.”
On May 30, Police Chief Tony Reyes joined in on the shallow attempts by law enforcement agencies across the country to “stand with the protestors” when he orchestrated a photo op on the steps of New Haven Police Department headquarters and stood with a group of officers holding signs that read “Police Against Police Brutality.”
But on May 31, just a day later and on those very same steps, NHPD assembled a line of cops, blocked entry into a public building and violently pushed and pepper sprayed protesters demanding to meet with Mayor Elicker. After a thousand people marched through downtown New Haven and shut down the highway on I-95, the march moved to NHPD headquarters because the Mayor had posted on social media that he was inside the building monitoring the demonstration. Later that night, and after the police assaulted the demonstration, Elicker finally stepped outside. He defended the actions of the police, failed to address any of the local issues raised and quickly returned inside. Hours later, NHPD threatened to arrest those resiliently demonstrating outside, only to back down and retreat into the building themselves.
These scenes were replicated across the state where police responded to calls to end brutality with more brutality. On May 30 in Bridgeport, the police violently attacked protesters with pepper spray. On May 31 in Waterbury, the police violently arrested almost 30 people at a community demonstration. Video shows police ordering people out of the street and within seconds moving in to arrest people as they were walking back to the sidewalk, slamming several onto the ground and into a police cruiser.
The widely recognized truth throughout our communities is that New Haven is in fact Minneapolis and Minnesota is Connecticut. Racist police violence is a pandemic that has gripped Black and Brown neighborhoods throughout the city and state for decades. The viral videos of police murder and brutality, and the massive rebellions that have spread in their wake, have laid this out as clear as day for the world to see. But elected officials and the political establishment in New Haven, and across the state, have responded with violent assaults, lip service, deflection and attempts to move on. But the movement against police brutality that has been building for some time will not just move on.
The hypocrisy of officials like Mayor Elicker and Chief Reyes is astounding. They defended the cops who assaulted protesters on May 31. They have defended New Haven cop Paul Vitale who violently assaulted and arrested a man inside Walmart just days earlier on May 28. They have been silent on the death of those in police custody like Monique Hayes and Deshawn Wilson. They have refused to stop holding people in the city jail during a deadly pandemic. Instead, they have falsely and divisively equated the release of prisoners, who were rightfully released for public health reasons, with an increase in street violence. They continue to allow Hamden and Yale police to operate in New Haven — the same two departments guilty of nearly killing two residents in a reckless shooting in April 2019. Theses three departments collectively overpolice neighborhoods like Newhallville that are targeted for displacement by real estate profiteers. Millions of dollars from the city budget are diverted away from vital social services and into the hands of a department that inflicts violence on our communities.
For years, community organizers in New Haven have fought for community control through a Civilian Review Board that has the power to investigate and take action against police misconduct. These efforts have been continually met with political obstacles. Outrageously, when the prior administration finally made its appointments to the CRB, it tried to appoint a retired cop whose entire career was riddled with complaints of misconduct. Almost a year later, the Board of Alders has failed to fill the CRB’s vacant seats or take any meaningful action to address police brutality. Instead, the Board of Alders passed a ridiculous resolution on June 1 that “condemned police brutality” everywhere else but completely failed to mention any of the many incidents that have transpired in their own city or state. The resolution didn’t address a single issue raised by community members.
For years, Internal Affairs departments and State’s Attorney offices across the state have been complicit, failing to fire, criminally charge or convict cops of brutality and murder. Mubarak Soulemane was killed by State police in West Haven. Anthony “Chulo” Vega was killed by Wethersfield police. Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon were nearly killed by Hamden and Yale police in New Haven. Zoe Dowdell was killed and Noah Young and Caleb Tisdol were nearly killed by New Britain police. Jayson Negron was killed by Bridgeport police. Malik Jones was killed by East Haven police in New Haven. The list is heartbreakingly long — nearly 40 people have been killed by police across the state since 2013 alone, and countless more have been brutally assaulted and falsely arrested. These cases must be reopened and the officers involved must be fired, charged and convicted.
But when faced with the righteous force of a nationwide movement that brings all of these local issues to their doorsteps, we’re told by Elicker, Reyes and others that we have some problems here, but New Haven and Connecticut are different.
PSL CT rejects these outright lies. We stand with the families and friends of those killed and brutalized by the police. We stand with organizations like People Against Police Brutality, Black Lives Matter New Haven, CT CORE, Semilla Collective, the Connecticut Bail Fund and so many others who organize and mobilize for justice and to meet the needs of our community. We stand with the countless activists, the young people and other community members across the state who have joined and led these demonstrations.
We demand justice and compensation for the families and victims of police brutality. We demand these cops go to jail. We demand community control and an end to racist police violence. Across the state, the protests over the past week have shown the power of our community when we are united and take collective action. It is right to rebel and together we can win!