New Haven activists say, ‘Climate justice is racial justice’


On Saturday, April 24, a collection of local movement groups came together to rally and march for recognizing that “Climate Justice is Racial Justice.” The event was spearheaded by Sunrise New Haven and Citywide Youth Coalition, Inc. Co-sponsors included Justice for Mubarak, Central Connecticut DSA, Safe Streets New Haven, Yale Endowment Justice Coalition, the Young Communist League, and New Haven Rising.

Speakers highlighted police violence, environmental racism, and Yale University’s role driving both in New Haven. Yale is the city’s largest landowner and employer with a $31.2 billion endowment, according to the Yale Investment Office.

Climate movement needs to fight police brutality

The first two speakers following an Indigenous land acknowledgement focused on police violence. Setting the tone, Jae, an Amistad High School student and actions co-leader for Sunrise New Haven, opened the rally by detailing how polluting infrastructure disproportionately affects people of color and Indigenous communities. She connected the fight against fossil-fuel construction with the struggle against police violence, stating that “environmental carelessness is an act of violence … Defunding and abolishing the police, who also perpetuate violence against people of color, is a great way to pay for it. This would be a step towards undoing centuries of environmental racism and slave patrol done by law enforcement.”

Mariyann Soulemane spoke on the racist social order that led to the killing of her brother Mubarak by Connecticut State Troopers. Mariyann began her intervention by citing the CDC‘s acknowledgement that racism “negatively affects the mental and physical health of millions of people.” She stated that the declaration comes “hundreds of years late. Racism permeates all sectors … it has killed our loved ones, which is the unfortunate case for my brother Mubarak Soulemane.”

She laid out how Mubarak, a “handsome, intelligent Black boy [with] many dreams [and] ambitions,” went from experiencing a schizophrenic episode to being shot seven times through a closed car window on Jan 25, 2020. Mubarak was 19 years old, undergoing a seizure from being tazed, and wearing a seatbelt when he was murdered. Mariyann concluded her speech by calling for “the state to call Brian North [the state trooper who murdered Mubarak] accountable and … for justice to be served.”

Kira, also from Justice for Mubarak, spoke on how police have their own environmental footprint. She stated that “defunding the police, abolishing the police … is an environmental justice issue” followed by a list of ways to reallocate funds currently going to police towards quality green affordable housing, community centers, and equitable urban beautification. Kira concluded by naming dozens of people killed by Connecticut police between 1997 and 2016.

Later, Lumisa from the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition pointed out that Black and Brown people are incarcerated in prisons made toxic by pollution and unable to receive medical care. The deadly truth of this fact has been sadly shown not only by the COVID hellscape of the prison industrial complex but also by the recent failure to evacuate the Manatee County, Fla., jail, which was in the evacuation zone for the recent Piney Point contaminated reservoir leak.

Environmental racism impacts health

Multiple speakers detailed the many health impacts that ecological destruction has on marginalized people. Kira, in the presentation mentioned above, gave a number of statistics, including that over half of the 9 million people living in environmentally contaminated areas in the U.S. are people of color, that Black Americans are three times as likely to die from exposure to air pollutants than white Americans, and that over 160,000 abandoned mines are on Indigenous lands. She made it clear that “environmental issues are coming from the Government and big businesses.”

Xochitl, an unaffiliated New Haven activist, talked about the 17 registered Brownfield sites in the city. Kai from Safe Streets New Haven detailed how transportation justice relates to climate and racial justice. She described how the vast majority of people hit by cars nationally are people of color and that New Haven is no stranger to the phenomenon. Over 100 people were hit by cars in the city last year, resulting in eight deaths.

Yale is a culprit

Two speakers from the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition (YEJC) spoke, in the words of EJC member Lumisa, on how “we are undeniable in the midst of a catastrophic crisis which our university has incessantly fueled. Yale is not only complicit but culpable for the social injury, environmental racism, and irreversible damage caused by the climate crisis through its exploitative, oppressive, and imperialistic financial practices. … Through the capitalistic processes which put profits over people, fossil fuel companies are uniquely responsible for the disaster of climate destruction … [that] due to structures of white supremacy … have been disproportionately forced on Black and Brown communities.”

YEJC has found that Yale is currently invested in fossil fuels. Lumisa connected this investment with the military and prison industrial complex, which together make up the world’s largest polluter, and other ecologically destructive activities such as deforestation.

Abolition now!”

Following the YEJC speakers, the rally took to the streets. About 80 people marched from the center of the New Haven Green on a winding path to New Haven City Hall. Demonstrators chanted slogans expressing the interconnections between climate and racial justice, including demands to abolish the police and popular chants like “show me what democracy looks like!” The march went through important points in New Haven’s busy downtown, including past the Yale Museum of Art. Many supporters cheered from the sidewalks and some even joined the march. Speeches continued in front of City Hall, including one by a Socialist Resurgence representative, which will be published separately.

The organizers’ intention and message for the Saturday march and rally in New Haven represent essential conclusions drawn from years of budding struggles. Equally important was the collaborative nature of planning for the rally and march, which allowed for a broad and powerful program. Spaces for collaboration must be deepened and expanded to allow for the most discussion on political, strategic, and tactical questions possible. In this way, student groups, community organizations, unions, and socialists can come together to achieve principled programmatic demands with a strategic orientation of building the largest movements possible. The politics will necessarily be shaped by the movements today’s activists have already experienced—including Justice for George Floyd and Solidarity with Standing Rock—with the immediate and long-term needs to maintain a livable earth.

To be successful, such a movement must necessarily be internationalist and democratic in character, have a leadership independent from capitalist influence, and strategically base itself on working-class methods such as strikes, street mobilizations, and mass teach-ins. Activists like those that came out on Saturday are laying the groundwork for the next upsurge. 

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