Photo: Clare Dignan / Hearst Connecticut Media
HAMDEN — Justice for Stephanie and Paul.
Dozens of speakers echoed that statement Tuesday during a special Legislative Council hearing about police issues in the wake of an officer-involved shooting last Tuesday and days of protests following.
Hamden residents, Yale students, New Haven officials, clergy and social activists crowded Memorial Town Hall on Monday to speak against the officer-involved shooting April 16 and policing practices of people of color.
Instead of holding the scheduled budget hearing, the Legislative Council opened the meeting to hear from the community about police issues.
Hamden police officer Devin Eaton and Yale University officer Terrance Pollock opened fire on a vehicle stopped near Dixwell Avenue and Argyle Street in New Haven around 4:20 a.m. on April 16. Stephanie Washington, a 22-year-old unarmed black woman, was wounded in the shooting. Paul Witherspoon was driving the car and was also shot at, although he wasn’t hit by the gunfire.
Since the shooting, people have protested almost daily against Hamden and Yale police, demanding the body and vehicle camera footage from the incident be released and the officers be fired.
Dozens of speakers called for an independent investigation of the shooting, funded by the Legislative Council, among other actions.
“There’s a demand that we follow through on justice for Stephanie and Paul,” the Rev. Scott Marks said to council.
Marks was one of many who demanded that money be allocated by the council to conduct an independent investigation into the police shooting.
Hamden resident Rhonda Caldwell, who has been protesting in the streets since Wednesday, said money proposed to fund school resource officers in elementary schools, should be reallocated to fund the independent investigation.
Social activist Kerry Ellington spoke to the council to list protesters’ concerns.
“Today you’re going to hear from residents who your police, police,” Ellington said. On behalf of activists who have been protesting for days, Ellington said they demanded the officers be immediately fired, all footage related to the shooting be released and that the council fund an independent investigation with at least $50,000.
“People find money when it’s important,” the Rev. Boise Kimber said. “This is important to the survival and relationship of Hamden and New Haven. Don’t tell us you ain’t got no money. People are hurting at what is taking place.”
Kimber said Hamden needs to change the police culture if the community is going to move forward, noting that the department has never seen a black or Latino police chief.
Resident James Atwell said his grandson was in a house nearby when officers fired their weapons at Washington and Witherspoon.
“Police are supposed to protect and serve,” he said. “I can see who they were protecting, but who were they serving? I’m outraged that police feel that those lives don’t matter. Things have to change.”
Atwell said police need sensitivity and cultural training. His call was echoed by David Canton, who said educating police on the cultures and communities they’re policing.
Canton said that cultural education is just as important for police as firing a weapon.
Witherspooon’s uncle Rodney Williams said even though his nephew wasn’t hit by a bullet, he is traumatized by his experience with the officers.
“Nobody in my family feels like this officer shouldn’t get fired,” Williams said.
Williams said it’s not only Hamden that needs to be looking at police issues, but every town.
“You’re in a bad spot,” he said, “but you’ve been in a bad spot for a long time. You just didn’t get caught.”