By VINNY GROSSMAN and ERNIE GOTTA
While the case has yet to garner the massive media attention it deserves, the killing of Steven Barrier by the Stamford, Conn., police department is well documented. Steven was detained following a foot chase during which a responding officer said he was having a “psychotic episode.” Barrier was a diagnosed schizophrenic. Similarities immediately emerge with the New Haven police killing of Mubarak Soulemane, a 19-year-old Black man, a few exits north on I-95. Soulemane was also a known schizophrenic who was shot by police instead of receiving mental health resources.
Video shows police carrying an immobilized Barrier to the police car for a distance of what looks to be well over a quarter of a mile, constantly berating him to “stand up” and walk despite the fact that he was obviously incapable of doing so. The officers make jokes and complain about being out in the rain, talking about “dragging his ass” and “rolling him” to make their job easier. There is no attempt to stabilize Steven’s spine or other basic medical precautions.
In the police vehicle, Steven moaned and asked for the A/C to be turned on, saying he was having trouble breathing. The officer driving cracked open the window and asked his superior if Barrier should be taken to the hospital or the station, but the supervisor said to take Steven to the station for booking. When they arrived, Steven was completely unresponsive and had to be carried to the room where he was detained and likely drew his last breath.
Despite the state autopsy stating that no force had been involved, upon arrival at the station officers reported Barrier “having blood on him” and their putting on rubber gloves. After holding him completely unconscious and unresponsive on the floor for five minutes, an officer is seen on video joking that Barrier is “a great actor,” to which another officer is shown laughing. Not until Steven has been in holding for almost nine minutes does anyone check if he is “faking” being unconscious. Shortly afterward, he was pronounced dead.
Unanswered: how was he apprehended?
The video of Barrier’s killing was released shortly after the events, but the state has not been transparent in its investigation. All officers involved were cleared of wrongdoing, with no oversight at all from the community. Barrier’s family and their legal representatives have not been able to see his body, and no body camera footage has been released showing the police actually apprehending him.
While the official account clears the police “of all wrongdoing,” Barrier’s family says that he was administered a triple-dose of Narcan, which the state is not including in their analysis of his death. Similarly, an initial investigation found that no tasers were discharged despite that being a logical factor leading to the fatal encounter. In sum, the circumstances surrounding Barrier’s death are very similar to those of Elijah McClain, another unarmed Black man killed by police through a combination of tasering and a deadly drug dose administered while in police custody.
Police brutality and corporate domination of Stamford
All of the facts and video of Steven Barrier’s murder point to an attitude of brutality and disrespect from the Stamford police department towards the city’s Black and Brown working class. As exposed by speakers at the July 11 demonstration, the Stamford PD regularly engages in racial profiling and intimidation against the city’s working-class population. These episodes of violent and systemic racism are reflections of the extreme concentrations of capital that have raised rents and displaced people of color throughout the city.
Stamford has been a stronghold of financial and corporate headquarters for decades, but the pace of gentrification has been rapidly quickening over the last 20 years. The South End had much of its older residential housing destroyed in the 1990s and early 2000s, including a massive 2006 fire with unknown origins, leaving thousands of Black and immigrant tenants on the street. In their place are more corporate headquarters, upscale dining, and high-end apartments to service professional workers commuting to New York City.
These structural forces are part of a citywide uptick in speculation and development, leaving much of the housing out of the price range for domestic and service workers who actually work in the city. Included in this is a growing police department budget, which includes 10 to 33 transfers of military equipment, to enforce the rule of speculators and corporations.
The viciousness of the housing situation in Stamford is reflected in high levels of homelessness, which the Democratic Party-run city refuses to address. Jason Shaplen, CEO of a private agency that runs shelters and researches housing policy, told reporters last year that 30% of the people applying for temporary housing in Stamford already had jobs, and that the shelters are running at over 100% occupancy. Meanwhile, the money allotted to issues of homelessness was only a meager $233,000, less than the value of equipment transferred to the Stamford PD from the Pentagon.
Community fights back: Abolitionist occupation
About 200 people led by Kyla Johns marched and chanted the name of Steven Barrier through the streets of Stamford on Saturday, July 11. Protesters stopped in Columbus Park, which has been the site of demonstrations to take down a statue of Christopher Columbus and rename the park. There the crowd listened to a song recorded by Steven’s godmother that had the refrain, “I can’t breath.”
Protesters continued on to the police department, where they heard strong denunciations of the police from activists and Steven Barrier’s family. Valerie Jaddo, Steven’s mother, spoke at the rally and said, “I’m standing here today with the community to protest for justice for Steven Barrier!”
Darnell Crosland, the attorney representing Steven Barrier’s family, said, “Don’t come out here and get on your knees when we don’t need you. … If you want to do something, do something for real.”
Hotel worker and union member Joe Hutchinson gave a message of solidarity from Stamford hotel workers and members of Local 217 Unite Here. The majority of Local 217 members in Stamford are Black, Latino, immigrant, and women workers who face attacks from the hotel companies who have taken away their health care during a pandemic as well as police repression in the community.
The young organizers of the rally have a set of demands that include defunding the police by 50% and investing in the community, especially in education. Stamford’s schools are currently in disrepair, and instead of investing in schools, the city is looking to privatize and cut the education budget. Other demands include demilitarization of the police, publicizing all internal police investigations, and arresting the officers who killed Steven.
About a dozen tents are currently set up in Latham park in the heart of Stamford and within eyesight of some of the most popular restaurants, a constant reminder to those out for dinner or brunch with friends and family that justice is still being denied. Protesters are saying that they’ll remain there until their demands are met. We urge all of our readers in the Stamford area to head to Latham Park on 269 Bedford St. Join the encampment and help build the movement for justice for Steven Barrier!