Tag Archives: tragedy

On Citizens and Police

6 Oct

It feels like abuse to me.

It feels like abuse because watching the video and hearing an officer, post-tasing a student, yell “Who’s next?” causes the center of my stomach to clench in a tight and painful ball.

(Warning: college student language here)

It feels like abuse because I listened to the radio interview with two arrested students (both of whom I know), and they told me that not one of the arrested students had his (they were all male) rights read to him – in fact, in several cases, it sounded like the opposite.

It feels like abuse because – let’s be honest – I’m used to conceptualizing police as there to protect me, or, in the occasional moment, to protect me from hurting myself or from hurting others (isn’t that really what enforcing laws is supposed to accomplish?), and these images of SWAT teams and semi-automatic guns charging into a room full of dancing students challenge those conceptions.

And it feels like abuse because even if I trust that the Yale students involved will be okay – that the university will help them to hire lawyers and share the full story of what happened at Elevate – I know that if this happened to us, it is also, most likely, happening to others around the city and state. And they, unlike us, may not have the resources to pursue justice, whatever that justice might entail.

Okay. So. We’ve established that I’m uncomfortable with what happened this weekend between NHPD officers and Yale students. And if the dozens of comments on the YDN, New Haven Independent, and New Haven Register articles are any indication, I’m not alone.

But I’m also not done thinking this through. Yes, my initial reaction is straight-from-the-gut sadness at what I’ve heard. But I’m also in disagreement with many of the sentiments coming from members of the Yale community, things like: “This is why Yale should leave New Haven,” or “How stupid are they to come after underage drinking?” or “Yalies deserved what was coming to them — they all think that they’re better than the law,” or even the most typical teenage rebellion of all, “F&%* the police!”

Because let’s face it — the police did something wrong on Saturday night, even if there is more to the story (which is to say — even if we did things wrong as well). Maybe they went on a power trip, maybe they did indeed feel some class dynamics, or maybe they just felt threatened by a room full of people who were probably both scared and nervously laughing under their breath. But on other nights, members of that same police force – and so many other public servants around the country – are instead responsible for doing so much right. This story of police officers from the same New Haven Police force saving a man’s life is the reality far more often than the Storm Trooper parallels that are being drawn about Saturday night, and it is only by acknowledging the good intentions of the vast majority of officers that we can move forward from this.

But move forward to where? And how?

On our end, we need to recognize that the police have every right to enforce laws in our city, whether they be laws about overcrowding, underage drinking (even if they only found one person this time around, let’s not roll our eyes and pretend it’s not a legitimate target for their authority), or, at the extreme, murdering another person. We need to recognize that when they come dressed for combat, often that is because these cops actually deal with combat — and that the violence outside of city nightclubs won’t go down without their help and without them being willing to put their lives on the line to make our streets safer. We need to recognize that they are patrolling an urban area with enormous disparities in age, wealth, background, and criminal records. And we need to recognize that before we criticize their jobs, we ought to consider whether we would be willing to give them a try instead, even just for a night or two. In my case, the answer, though it makes me a bit embarrassed to admit it, is no. I, at least without an enormous amount of training and selflessness, could not do what they do. All it takes are a few reads of the Indy’s “Cop of the Week” profiles for me to know that.

And before you jump on me for leaving your – our – side of this out, let me take a seat on the other side of the debate table for a moment.

From the perspective of a student and a citizen, even as we recognize your job as policemen and women and commend you for it, we ask that you respect us in return. Even as you wear gear that prepares you for the worst possible scenario, is there a moment in which you could allow us to act our best? We, in almost all instances, want to help you. We value you, we want to cooperate, and – yes – we are terrified of your guns. So help us! Instead of blazing through the doors of a club of students with your guns waving and not explaining the reasons for your presence, take a moment, assess the lack of resistance, and talk to us. Tell us why you are there. Tell us what you expect from us and what we can expect from you in return. Treat the situation like we both belong to the same community (because – and I feel so so strongly about this – we do) and have some goals in common – goals like everyone in the club abiding by the law and leaving safely, goals like citizens doing their job by informing police about potential trouble and acting as stand-in vigilantes as necessary, goals like the city in return valuing the police force enough to agree to a raise in union wages. Perhaps these questions sound, to you, naive. But I ask you to take a moment to remember that, when we first grow up in our communities, we are all naive about what it means to interact with an officer. It does not come naturally. We see and hear conflicting messages from the media, from American history, from our friend’s dad who works in the station. We don’t know what to expect when we really, truly are asked to confront you for the first time. And for many of those Yale students, the raid at Elevate was their first time in direct contact with you. That’s a precious moment, and we can either leave it the way that we did on Saturday, disillusioned, hurt, angry, confused…or we can leave it understanding your job and why you asked us to act certain ways in your presence in order to make doing that job easier.

Hand-in-hand with our naivete and thus nervousness comes this desire to document your actions. A beautiful thing about this country is the way that it allows its citizens freedom of speech and of the press – a freedom that makes the old adage about the pen being mightier than the sword actually have a chance at verity. Yes, you have the right to carry your guns – we know that. It makes us both grateful and terrified, depending on which way they are pointing. But in return for us respecting your right to control the boundaries of our interactions through your weapons, you need to understand that our powers of observation are our own way of ensuring our safety and comfort during our meetings together. Both tools are dangerous — a trigger finger on a gun or on a camera has the power to change someone’s life within seconds. Your bullets are more immediately lethal, but a well-crafted article (or, I should say, a few seconds of video like those shown above) can have consequences with an even farther reach – one that moves beyond just the people present in that moment and into a national or global public sphere. So if you agree to be trained to use your weapon, let us, in turn, have a moment for self-defense. If we are not impeding you during your investigations or arrests and are merely observing, let us reinforce our eyes with gadgets. If you are doing your job, let the record show it. If we aren’t doing ours, let the record show that, too.

These are difficult issues and dialogues that all too often happen in terms of individual cases. In those scenarios, someone will always be seen as the “victor” (Yale students if they are acquitted, New Haven police if they can indeed prove that they were provoked). So before any of this happens again, let’s do more than hold press conferences trading anecdotes across newsprint and Twitter feeds. Let’s do our best to get some real conversation going, through our public remarks, yes, but also by encouraging our campus leaders to enroll in city-sponsored initiatives like the New Haven Police Citizens Academy. A course designed to increase communication, understanding, collaboration, and respect between New Haven citizens (and again, yes, this INCLUDES Yalies) and New Haven police officers sounds like the perfect place to start.


The Attack of the Mozzarella, or Why You Should Always Buy Insurance Before Eating Delicious Things

10 Jun

In case you are wondering if the gods of Rome have a sense of humor…

…my computer may be dead right now due to an intense keyboard injection of fresh mozzarella juice.

Yes, you read that right. Now go ahead and laugh your tail off. Unless, of course, you are my mom or dad, who will read this, shake their heads with a look of despair, and say, “Oh, Jessica. Really?”

Really. It all happened with an innocent Skype conversation home. And as usual, instead of talking about my day or my feelings or their day or their feelings, I was talking about food. Lots of food. My breakfast, my lunch, my dinner — I mean, what else do you talk about when you are Skyping from Italy?

At the time of my conversation, we had already set the table with our beautiful antipasto of fresh mozzarella, cut tomatoes, and arugula. “Mmmmm,” I said into the microphone. “Mmmm?! What mmmm?!?!” replied my jealous mother. “THIS MMMMMMMM!” I exclaimed in reply.

And that’s when it happened. I brought the whole platter over to my camera, leaned it over to allow for maximum viewing, and…Splat. Mozzarella juice. Cheese whey. On my keyboard.

At first, it didn’t do anything except my make mom’s envious expression get a bit more pronounced. But slowly, over the next hour, as I attempted to type, something seemed very, very wrong.

The letter “o” turned into “oi.” The letter “d” made “dhe.” And the letters “y,” “c,” “b,” and “h” ceased to exist at all. “AHHHHHHHjgtleuiydouygbchxjgs!!!!!!*^%^&^&%!!!!!!” I yelled to my apartment. Which, roughly translated, means, “I CANT BREATHE MY COMPUTER IS BROKEN MY LIFE IS OVER THE WORLD HAS ENDED APOCALYPSE APOCALYPSE waaaaahhhh (explosion of tears)”

Which brings me to tonight, almost 24 hours later. My computer is sitting upside down in the guys’ apartment with the keyboard thoroughly dismantled (“WHOA!” they yelled when they first removed the keys. “It smells so much like mozzarella in your computer!” In lieu of responding, I banged my head against the wall several times.) They tell me it might survive, but fortunately the data on my hard drive will be recoverable no matter what, if not the functionality of the full computer. And even MORE fortunately, I purchased personal property insurance before leaving for Italy, so even if it doesn’t revive, I can get a computer replaced with minimal difficulty.

So here is my advice for anyone else traveling: BUY PERSONAL PROPERTY INSURANCE AHEAD OF TIME. I used Haylor (http://www.haylor.com/, the college students program, which is the one Yale recommends), but there are several with good plans that extend their coverage worldwide. Because of this, even though I didn’t think I’d have to use it this early, I am covered under accidents, drops, theft, etc, etc. And depending on how this whole cheese episode turns out, I think I will feel very grateful indeed to have purchased it.

Our home-cooked dinner of pasta with zucchini and mussels. Don't believe the innocent expression on the mozzarella's face in the upper left. That is a dangerous - I repeat, armed and dangerous - criminal you are looking at.

P.S. More posts to come in the future whenever I regain regular computer access. I have lots of other things to update about and have been writing in my journal even when I haven’t had time to post, so I’m hoping to catch up with the blog this weekend. Until then, I’m crossing my fingers that this will all be fixed when I wake up in the morning – after all, where there’s a will…there’s a “whey.”