In law school, alongside dedicated classmates, I fought a case taking on a corrupt police department in East Haven, CT. It began one cold February night in the basement of a church, where Latino families gathered to tell stories of abuse and racial profiling at the hands of police officers. People were scared to come forward, but faith and community leaders in that local Catholic church urged them to tell their stories in the light of day.
For the next several years, we waged a robust campaign. The case has just reached a dramatic conclusion, or at least the end of one chapter. A few days ago, the Department of Justice released a scathing indictment against the police department and the FBI arrested four officers. And yesterday, the Police Chief at the center of so much of the abuse has resigned.
NYT: Police Gang Tyrannized Latinos, Indictment Says
CNN: FBI arrests Connecticut cops accused of racial profiling
NPR: 4 Conn. Officers Arrested Over Treatment Of Latinos
NYT: East Haven Police Chief Retiring After Charges for Officers
I’m amazed that a small group of faith leaders, courageous community members, and dedicated students could so effectively bring national attention to an injustice and call upon institutions of power to take action. It makes me understand the power of storytelling in a new way — filmmakers learn to bring stories to the general public; lawyers and organizers make stories of injustice legible inside institutions of power. Both forms of storytelling are necessary to change hearts and minds, not only of decision-makers but of a public who hold them accountable.
In our case, we waged a multi-pronged strategy that took movement-building just as seriously as traditional lawyering. The result: storytelling + advocacy = social change.
I share as a model of what a groundswell could look like in one Connecticut town.