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Addressing Window Pain

Two weeks ago, my family’s home was shot at four times.

On the afternoon of Saturday, September 26, I called the Hamden Chief of Police, John Sullivan. I wanted to ask him for updates regarding recent shootings, a recent car chase, and other issues in the neighborhood. Something many people don’t know is that for the past two years, I’ve kept up regular communication with our town’s police Chief. Usually, I would wait until Monday to set up a meeting but something pushed me to arrange one then. Even if we don’t agree on policy, it’s critical that we keep an open line of communication.

Later that afternoon, I was at home with my mom when I heard four explosive bursts ring in my direction. I knew they were gunshots and headed to the door. My mom was standing outside; the panic in her face told me to get back inside the house. I looked to see if everyone was okay, and saw some people running and looking for cover. My mom signaled to me to stay inside but I walked around the side of my house, towards where the gunshots had come from. Unsure of how I felt about calling 911, I asked a neighbor to call for me. I phoned the Chief instead, telling him to add this to the list of things we would discuss on Monday. My mom and I quickly realized that several bullets had hit her car window — just yards from where she had been watering the garden, and a few yards in the other direction from where I had been sitting. Only a day later would we realize that a bullet had also gone through my mother’s bedroom window, lodging itself in her bedpost.

I checked in with my neighbors about what had happened and how they were doing. I learned that a group of people I’d seen around my neighborhood for the past couple of weeks had been involved in the shooting; I felt frustrated with myself for not having approached them sooner.

The police started to arrive on the scene. One of the officers asked me if I’d had any beef with anyone in the neighborhood and whether I thought the shooting was aimed at me or my family. This was unexpected — I assured him that rather, it was the byproduct of poverty, redlining, and generational poverty. I heard my neighbors talk about how they felt unsafe. Some advocated for an increased police presence. I wondered how my community might benefit from the $400,000 that easily made up the salaries of the officers on the scene.

I was supposed to be on a Zoom meeting at this time to speak about my campaign’s housing platform and my thoughts on the decommodification of housing. I collected the names and numbers of the officers on the scene and took pictures of the damages for insurance purposes. By the grace of g!d, the two bullets that hit my family’s rental property next door didn’t hit our tenant. I realized that it was going to be a headache to deal with three different insurance claims. As the event started I would hop in and out sharing my perspectives and listening to other speakers talk about their struggles for affordable housing. These were 20- and 30-somethings, most of whom are studying at Yale, who are chasing affordable rent and trying to find safe places to live temporarily while in school.

I found myself thinking about how affordable housing is central to an issue like gun violence. The communities in greatest need often pay more in property taxes than wealthier suburbs. We’re literally telling people that, because you’re poor, you need to pay more in taxes to maintain our roads, highways, and bridges — while also paying for wraparound services to deal with poverty. Wealthy communities oftentimes oppose affordable housing because they’re afraid that if they let people like me into their community, they too will be unsafe. They’re afraid that their property value will decline, that their way of life will be under attack. In truth, our indifference to these plights is the true attack.

I noticed that one detective had broken into my car to retrieve a bullet from the door. I would like to think something about the look of astonishment on my face or my demeanor made him pause before he damaged the siding on the house to retrieve another bullet. As I pondered these thoughts, I wondered whether these police officers were being paid overtime.

Another detective arrived on the scene. He had been a School Resource Office when I was a student at Hamden High. In my senior year, I was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome. I had about 4–5 seizures in the first three weeks of the school year. I went into school one day and the administration told me that I would be forced to switch to home-bound schooling for the rest of the academic year. They instructed me to go to in-school suspension for the rest of the day. I chose to go to class instead, and the school called the police. This detective had put me in handcuffs and called me a punk and a thug. I had told him I wanted the handcuffs off: not being able to control my movements, I would break my hand and have a panic attack. This detective put me in the back of a Squad car. I was left with a scar on my left wrist. That was the last time I had seen that officer. Eight years have passed since then, but those scars still remain. Now, I must count on this detective and the department to handle my family’s case, find the assailant, and bring him to “justice.”

About 10 minutes later, he approached me and I asked for the case number. I asked him when we should reach out to the insurance company, whether my mom could drive her car or if it was evidence, and whether there would there be any fines or issues with her driving with a hole in the windshield. He answered my questions and we wished each other goodnight.

I mentioned this event to a (virtual) room of democrats in the Hamden Democratic Town Committee, the group that’s tasked with determining which candidates run for local office. Of the 50 people present, only one said anything in response. The conversion moved onto other topics. Later on, one official virtue-signaled about abolishing the police, which made me laugh: how can you call for abolition and not acknowledge gun violence? If we want a society without policing, our communities need a village mentality — which isn’t something we have yet. This is why we’ve been in the streets declaring that our lives matter. As 2pac says, “Cause they don’t give a fuck about us.” If they did, they would’ve moved beyond wearing BLM shirts and putting signs in their yards, and started fighting for systemic, structural reform.

Justin is a 26-year-old activist elected official. He is currently serving his second term as a Legislative Councilman representing Hamden’s 5th District.

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