Between 12pm and 1pm on Friday, a Yale Police officer issued veiled threats to members of La Unidad Latina en Acción (ULA), a Latino social justice group that protests the name of Calhoun College.
Each Friday, ULA members hold a neon orange banner that reads #ChangeTheName – a reference to last year’s campaign to rename Yale’s Calhoun College, named for John C. Calhoun, who advocated for slavery as a “positive good.” The ULA protesters hold the banner in the crosswalk of Elm and College Streets when the walk signal is on and cars must wait at the intersection. When the walk sign marks five seconds remaining, the protesters return to the sidewalk.
After several rounds of standing in the crosswalk, a police officer approached the protesters on Friday. He parked his white SUV in front of the entrance to Calhoun on Elm Street. The traffic light was still red and the ULA members were already off the crosswalk. They were standing along the sidewalk, chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, Calhoun College has got to go.”
The police officer held a small black rectangle – likely a body camera – in front of his chest as he walked from one end of the sidewalk to the other. He said, “This is your first warning; this is your first warning.”
“We were in the crosswalk during a red light, sir,” one protester said.
“This is your first warning,” the officer replied.
Another protester said, “We aren’t blocking the sidewalk, we are standing off to the side, sir.”
The office returned to his car and turned left onto College Street, shouting out his open window, “I’ve given you a warning.”
The Politic noted the officer’s plate number, YPD 110, and contacted the Yale Police Department for comment. The receptionist confirmed that any plate beginning with the letters “YPD” does in fact indicate a Yale officer. When transferred to a Lieutenant, The Politic was told that the officer was filming in response to community demands across the country that police actions be filmed for transparency. The Lieutenant did not know, however, why the officer stopped in front of the protesters and issued a warning. He said any other information would have to come from the chief’s office, which was not available for comment.
La Unidad Latina en Acción is an activist group designed to mobilize New Haven’s Latino community on social justice issues. When dining hall worker Corey Menafee was arrested after smashing a stained glass image of slaves picking cotton in Calhoun College this summer, ULA protested in front of Calhoun and the New Haven courthouse. They pushed Yale administrators to reinstate Menafee as an employee and drop the charges against him.
Menafee has since returned to work with his criminal charges dropped. But ULA members still stand in front of Calhoun College for one hour each Friday and call on Yale to change the name, which they find offensive to communities of color that invest money and time in New Haven.
According to Megan Fountain (TC ‘07), an organizer with La Unidad Latina en Acción, the officer’s behavior was unusual. Fountain told The Politic that officers sometimes approach the group to say that they received a complaint. But they always say hello first, Fountain said, and state their reason for being there.
“We have talked to City Hall several times, and we don’t need a permit,” Fountain said. “As long as we are not blocking the sidewalk and use the crosswalk during the walk sign, we don’t need a permit.”
This officer had come last week, said a woman who identified herself as CJ. “He stopped and asked us what we were doing and I said, ‘Exercising my First Amendment right.’ He just said, ‘humph’ and walked away.”
“He has come by for several weeks and asks us questions, but this is the first time he’s harassed us like this,” CJ said.
As the protesters lowered their signs at 1pm, a different New Haven police officer gave them a friendly wave and a smile.