Apparently, our dear friends at Yale know how to throw a rowdy party. Over a dozen New Haven Police Department officers raided a party at a nightclub sponsored by two of Yale’s residential colleges early on Saturday morning, arresting five students and shocking another with a Taser, according to witnesses that spoke with the Yale Daily News. The officers, who students report were wielding assault rifles and wearing what seemed to be SWAT gear, had received a tip that there would be underage drinking at the nightclub Elevate on Crown Street, according to New Haven Assistant Chief of Operations Ariel Melendez the morning of the raid, as reported in the YDN. The raid came after the NHPD had increased its efforts to reduce violence in downtown New Haven through what it termed “Operation Nightlife.” Based on available information, we believe the police’s response to the nightclub party was excessive. Both the hostile manner in which the officers arrived and the brutal actions they took inside the club—as described by Yale students and the club’s owners—greatly outweighed the necessary response to underage drinking.
The officers’ apparently aggressive arrival was disproportionate to the threat of the situation at the club. Although protective gear and large weaponry may be necessary for circumstances in which there is probable cause for or threat of violence, this party was not one of those occasions. Indeed, the NHPD had likely been responding to a tip they had received between 9:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. on Friday night, hours before the raid, which occurred just before 1:00 a.m. The threat of the event was therefore not urgent enough to call for the police’s garb and guns. In fact, this situation seems to have been a poor use of police resources. In a time of increased crime within New Haven, addressing violence ought to be a more important priority to the NHPD than responding to underage drinking.
While the police’s initial response to the party was inappropriate, we believe that their actions within the club were excessive, as well. For instance, students in the club have stated that four officers not only shocked one student with a Taser but also beat and jumped on him. Indeed, the officers were creating more of an unstable situation than they were responding to. Of the five students arrested on Saturday, only one was arrested for underage drinking, according to the YDN, two students were arrested for interference with police officers, and one each was arrested for assault on police officers and for disorderly conduct. Disobeying police officers is certainly reprehensible, but the fact that four of the five arrests seem to have resulted from the NHPD’s presence itself illuminates the disproportionate nature of the officers’ actions at the nightclub.
Yale administrators appear to be taking the situation very seriously, as Yale College Dean Mary E. Miller outlined in an email to students on Sunday night. She explained that Yale’s Dean of Student Affairs W. Marichal Gentry “was assigned to be the lead liaison with Denise Blanchard, Captain of Internal Affairs of the New Haven Police Department, who will be overseeing the process which may lead to a formal investigation.” As the university continues to collect facts about the incident, we hope the Yale administration will continue to stand up for their students’ rights. Indeed, Yalies deserve a detailed account of the police raid, and we call upon the NHPD to provide one.
We must recognize that, as Harvard students, this situation has entered our awareness largely because it affected students at our peer institution. However, police should never treat members of a community in the manner they allegedly did; arriving with the degree of weaponry and body armor students report is inappropriate when there is neither probable cause nor threat of violence. In any case, it appears that the police response to the party at Elevate escalated out of control. It’s time that the NHPD brings justice back to New Haven.