It was cold, windy, and rainy, but that didn’t stop 30 or so demonstrators from New Haven’s version of the national Stop Mass Incarceration Network from rallying outside City Hall to mark “a month of resistance” against police brutality, mass incarceration, and racial profiling on Wednesday night.
It didn’t stop Emma Jones, who, at three times the age of most of the student protesters, has faced more than the elements throughout an 18-year march that is all too personal for her.
That’s about how long it’s been since the night of April 14, when her son, Malik, was shot and killed by a police officer who chased him into Fair Haven. Since then she won a racial profiling lawsuit that was overturned by a Federal Court of Appeals in New York, unsuccessfully petitioned the United States Supreme Court for further review of the case, launched a campaign for a New Haven civilian review board, and took part in countless rallies such as this one.
“We marched in all kinds of weather,” Jones told the shivering group of activists, as they stood on the steps of City Hall displaying signs. “And I would do it again.”
And she did-the rally was followed with a trek to the New Haven Police Department on Union Avenue, where protesters tied red ribbons-each containing the name of an individual killed by law enforcement-to the railings along the steps leading up to the building.
One of the group’s slogans-displayed on a white banner held up by two demonstrators-reads “The System is Guilty”. Barbara Fair, an activist with the organization My Brother’s Keeper, elaborates.
“We have come together to resist a system that has in place policies such as the War on Drugs, which means mass incarceration for our children,” Fair says into a megaphone. “It also is a system that criminalizes our kids-it’s called the school to prison pipeline. We got into fights at school, and we went to the principal’s office. We never left there in handcuffs. That’s the kind of society we’re living in today. Our kids are getting into fights-in school-and ending up in the criminal justice system. And once they end up in that system, there’s no way out.”
And kids are three times more likely to end up in the criminal justice system if they are suspended for “discretionary” offenses-or, violations that can be addressed in a school setting and do not mandate that law enforcement get involved-according to a study published by The Public Policy Research Institute and The Council of State Governments Justice Center.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, black students get hit with suspensions more often-at three times the rates of whites. So do students with learning disabilities-13 percent of whom have been issued out of school suspensions, compared to 6 percent of those without.
And then there’s the War on Drugs, which accounts for more almost 50 percent of the Federal prison population, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. In 2010, more than half the drug-related arrests were for marijuana, and blacks were targeted at three times the rate of whites, the ACLU reported.
“We have thousands of people getting arrested for petty drug offenses,” Fair said. “And yet, the serious crimes can’t get solved. We need to have a better society than that for my kids, your kids, and everybody’s kids. So let’s not stop tonight. Let’s continue this movement and keep growing.”