Hopkins Students March in Protest for BLM
Many Hopkins students are participants and leaders in the protests and events for the Black Lives Matter [BLM] movement that have swept through New Haven and West Haven since May.
The first New Haven protest took place on May 31, followed by protests on June 1 and June 5, an Anti-Fourth of July protest, and a protest for Breonna Taylor on September 28. Jasmine Simmons ’21 attended some of these protests because she “needed an outlet for [her] frustration and hurt.” She continues, “I felt hopeless at times, and I saw the protests as an opportunity for me to feel community and hope for change.”
Similar events were held in West Haven, such as a protest on June 6 and July 5. Nana Dondorful-Amos ’22 went to these events because “West Haven [was] so silent on racial issues, though their police department is guilty of the death of Mubarak Soulemane.” Soulemane was shot seven times by State Trooper Brian North in West Haven while local Police officers stood by on January 15.
Most of these protests were organized by the New Haven chapter of BLM or by CT Against Brutality, an organization founded by Dondorful-Amos and her sister. Dondorful-Amos explains, “It was the beginning of June, and I saw all the protests happening in New Haven. I thought: ‘why can't West Haven have protests like these?’” Dondorful-Amos says that she “decided to take the initiative.” Along with her sister, they led the first West Haven protest on June 6, and have continued to organize more protests since.
Alexis Chang ’21 joined CT Against Brutality soon after its founding, and has helped organize many of its protests. She details the planning process, “We pick a time and a place, we see if anybody wants to speak, and we get people to bring resources like water, granola bars, and masks.” She also notes that “sometimes the police reach out to us. It’s a little ironic because we’re marching to defund the police, but the police are asking if they can help us by blocking off the streets.” After a protest is planned, the group advertises it by posting on social media. Each protest begins with protesters gathering at some location in the center of the city. From there, they march to either the local police department or government building, making frequent stops to chant and hear speeches from Black people. In one protest, on May 31, in addition to marching to the New Haven Police Department, protesters walked onto the highway. Alexis Chang explains, “We blocked off all traffic on the highway because so many people that cared about something came together. I’ve never seen anything or been a part of something like that.”
Speeches at the protests included “students describing their struggles of being a person of color in their academic setting,” Dondorful-Amos explains. She also recalls listening to “Mubarak Soulemane’s very own sister speak,” and “hearing the heartbreak in her voice” at the West Haven protest on June 6. Alexis Chang gave her own speech on the racism Black artists face in the music industry. She elaborates, “Black music tends to be confined to either hip-hop or R&B. And whenever a Black artist [works in] any other genre, everybody gets confused. I remember the first time I performed at Back to School Bash, I felt like some people were a bit surprised that I was playing alternative music. I’m black, so maybe people didn’t expect that.”
Reflecting on the goals of these protests, Simmons says, “They’re an opportunity to get attention towards issues and amplify voices and experiences that have historically been ignored.” Dondorful-Amos agrees, “I would like to see, as a result of these protests, people of color in the light rather than in the shadows.” Michael Imevbore ’21 hopes the protests will “act as the Kickstarter for change to occur.” He continues, “It makes me sick and tired to hear people focus on the damage a few protests have caused. I do not condone violence, but focusing on the small damage a small number of protests [led to] shows that you are completely missing the point. Some people may have protested violently, but can you blame them? Living in a country built to oppress you with clear systemic racism is not easy.”
In addition to attending protests, Lionel Louis ’18 met with the West Haven Police Department (WHPD). Before meeting with the department, Louis called out the WHPD in numerous protests and speeches. Louis says, “The biggest motivating factor in my choice to engage in activism and call for police reform was the story of Mubarak Soulemane and the fact that he was murdered in West Haven by a state trooper.” Louis continues, “He and I are very close in age, and through protesting in Connecticut, I’ve become friends with many people who knew him personally. His family and loved ones all deserve justice, and West Haven deserves much better from its police force.”
Louis explains that the meeting between himself and the WHPD was arranged after he and a friend went to the town green to remove “Blue Lives Matter flags and ribbons” that “some people had hung up.” Louis continues, “Some of the people who hung it up saw us and we engaged in a constructive conversation. In this other group was a Black man, Commissioner Steve Mullins. Though I personally believe he’s on the wrong side of this movement, it was actually his idea to have a meeting with the Chief [of Police] and some of the higher-ups in the department.” After the meeting was scheduled, Louis was “asked to be one of the three people in attendance.”
During the meeting, Louis says they talked about an “incidence of violence that occurred at a BLM protest in West Haven on July 5. A woman drove her car through a crowd of protestors. The aftermath of that shocking moment was five arrested protestors, and three [others] were hospitalized due to injuries inflicted on them by the WHPD. The woman [driving the car] endangered nearly 60 people’s lives and was allowed to drive home without being detained.” He continues, “We also talked about the Connecticut Act Concerning Police Accountability Bill, WHPD’s lack of total police accreditation, some new programs the department has been trying to implement to increase positive community engagement, and the process one would go through to file a complaint against an officer.” Louis notes that “not much action was taken as a direct result of the meeting, but we learned a lot about how the police operate, and we encouraged them numerous times to be more transparent with the community about the things they’re doing to reduce speculation and suspicion from residents.”
Outside of protesting the police, Black people have come together to celebrate and support each other. On August 28, a Black Arts Matter event took place in New Haven. Alexis Chang recounts that there were “Black bands, Black vendors, a woman who made energy crystals and jewelry, people making shoes and clothes, and all types of performers, including rappers and singers.” Alexis Chang performed at this event along with her band, Omnia, and fellow singer Kaila Spearmen ’21. Alexis Chang elaborates, “We performed songs by all Black artists, such as a song by Bill Withers, TLC, and Steve Lacey.”
Talia Chang ’22 also used art to support Black people through a fundraiser she led. Talia Chang explains, “I’m a huge fan of Harry Styles. Not only do I love his music, he’s my fashion inspiration. A couple of his fans and I decided to take on the project of learning how to crochet to recreate a cardigan by JW Anderson that Harry wore on the Today Show!” After finishing her cardigan, Talia Chang posted a picture of it on her Instagram and noticed that “people loved [her] cardigan,” so she “saw it as an opportunity for good.” She elaborates, “There is always a constant need for donations to support The Black Lives Matter movement, so the day after posting my picture, I Kickstarted my fundraiser Crochet for Change. My plan was to crochet a second sweater, and hold a raffle to win it. People had to Venmo me $5 in order to put their name in the raffle and they could donate multiple times to increase their chances of winning.” In the end, Talia Chang raised $1,650 for the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization that supports black LGBTQ+ people.
Reflecting on the Black Lives Matter activism and Hopkins students, Milan Yorke ’21 hopes that it will encourage people to “stand with us.” Alexis Chang believes that it will show “Black resistance.” She explains, “When white supremacists see that Black people are coming together, that is resistance. It’s something some people don’t like to see.” Imevbore thinks it will show the Hopkins community that police brutality can happen to any Black person: “Police brutality happens to Black people all across the country, but having an instance occur merely 20 minutes from where I go to school heightens the notion that truly anybody could be next to fall victim to incompetent police officers who view mine and others’ Blackness as a weapon.”