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CT students say they 'won't back down' after being detained in community college protest

New Haven Police detain three students at Gateway.
Molly Ingram
New Haven Police detain three students at Gateway.

Three protesters, including two Gateway Community College students, were detained after advocating for a ceasefire in Gaza during a campus visit from Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Julie Su on Thursday.

Though the event was held to address a federal grant to support job training, Lamont has been met with criticism for his support of Israel by students and Connecticut residents in support of Palestine at multiple recent events.

The governor’s only official statement concerning Palestine or Israel directly came on Oct. 7 of last year, following Hamas’ attack on Israel. Another statement followed later that month to address the escalation of hate incidents on school campuses in Connecticut.

Lamont has infrequently responded to advocates urging a ceasefire in Gaza; however, he recently told a group of protesters at an event held at Southern Connecticut State University that “Nobody’s going to listen to [you],” unless the advocates acknowledged and condemned the Oct. 7 attacks.

Listen as two students and a third individual are detained for protesting at Gateway

On Thursday, after the event, Lamont left the auditorium and was confronted by at least three protesters. They can be heard urging Lamont to call for a ceasefire.

They held signs reading, “Lamont cut ties with Israel,” and “Permanent ceasefire now.”

Rosimer Quiñones-Alberty is one of the students. She said authorities told them to stand back.

As Lamont exited the building, the three protesters were led down a hallway by New Haven Police and CT State Community College Police to the school’s Gender Equity Center.

“We had [fallen back] as soon as they said that we weren't allowed to follow,” Quiñones-Alberty said. “And they had just like, started grabbing us and bringing us into the room. So I just think it was a little bit excessive… we were actually complying with the law.”

An officer escorts a student protester into an administrative office for detainment.
Molly Ingram
An officer escorts a student protester into an administrative office for detainment.

An officer can be seen putting his hands on the back of one person, appearing to push her into the room. “I think they were using more force than necessary,” said Leah, the person unaffiliated with the school.

Off campus grounds, two identified themselves by first name only; Leah and Sarah. Sarah and Quiñones-Alberty are students at Gateway. Leah and Sarah said they wanted to withhold their last names to protect themselves from retribution from the school.

“I'm a concerned young person in Connecticut, and I want our elected representatives to know that we're not just going to stand by and watch genocide happen,” Leah said. “We're going to say something. We have a voice. We have a right to free speech — they kept saying ‘you don't [have it] here,’ but I think it's ridiculous to not have a right to free speech at something like a community college.”

As Richard Wilson, the founding director of the Human Rights Institute at the University of Connecticut, explained in a recent WSHU series on free speech in schools: as a public college, freedom of speech and the right to protest is permitted throughout Gateway Community College’s campus – the same as any other public space.

Colleges are allowed to place “time, manner and place” restrictions on demonstrations, but those restrictions would have applied if the protesters had entered the event, disrupted Lamont’s speech, and/or blocked walkways or exits.

In an audio recording taken by WSHU, police say “You are not free to leave.”

The three protesters say they were held for approximately thirty minutes. When they were released, New Haven and CT State Community College Police escorted them out of the building.

The students said after dealing with the police, they were fearful they would not be allowed back on campus.

A spokesperson for the Connecticut State Community College system said the students are not banned from campus or suspended.

“Two CT State Community College Police officers escorted the three individuals down the hall from the main entrance where the disturbance was occurring to an administrative office to further investigate,” said the spokesperson. “CT State Community College Police were the lead investigators. CT State Community College Police interviewed the three individuals and released them without an arrest.”

The New Haven Police Department, whose officers were also present, did not respond to requests for comment.

Still, the students said they are afraid they could face punishment.

Quiñones-Alberty, who came to Connecticut from Puerto Rico for higher education, said she might have to return to Puerto Rico if she were to stop attending classes.

But she said she’s still determined to continue her advocacy.

“We're not going to back down,” Quiñones-Alberty said. “I mean, it sucks.”

Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.
Eda Uzunlar is WSHU's Poynter Fellow for Media and Journalism.
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