She Stepped Up To Lead Justice Fight

Lucy Gellman PhotoLia Miller-Granger grew up in Newhallville hearing her parents talk about police violence in the neighborhood, but not experiencing it firsthand.

Now, she’s at the head of a local movement that aims to end it.

Miller-Granger never expected to be one of the faces of the Black Lives Matter movement in New Haven. But last Friday’s swell of people marching downtown against police brutality brought her — and the organization she helped start — to the forefront of the fight.

She conducted the rally and march Friday evening on the New Haven Green held in response to the shooting deaths of black men at the hands of Louisiana and Minnesota police. She kicked off a long set of impassioned speeches and chants with a call to action.

“We have to occupy these streets. We have to call these civil servants and hold them accountable. This is the beginning. Do not let the fire inside of you dissipate,” she yelled through a bullhorn to a crowd of rapt faces that encircled her.

Inside, she was nervous. As she spoke to the people, she knew she wasn’t saying everything she wanted to. She didn’t recognize friends standing feet away who had turned out to rally with her on the Green. She wanted to be in the background, organizing behind the scenes; instead she found herself in the spotlight.

“My over-opinionated self,” she said, with a laugh, days after the rally. Her headstrong nature and loud voice made it unlikely she would fade into the surroundings.

MIller-Granger, who is 31, is the president of Black Lives Matter New Haven, which she now leads with three other black women: Lauren Pittman (or Sun Queen), Dawnise Boulware, and Sy Fraiser.

A black-centered activist group organizing a diverse group for economic and social stability in black communities in the city, Black Lives Matter New Haven is intended to fill a gap among local activist groups.

Aliyya Swaby PhotoThe idea to start a local chapter came to Miller-Granger as she sat home in late 2014 watching the news as reports filled her screen — of unarmed black men being shot by police, of grand juries choosing not to indict the officers.

“I was pissed off, ‘beyond pisstivity,’ in my mom’s words,” she said. So she decided to get off the couch and do something.

She called Pittman, who has been an activist for years, and asked her, “Where’s the Black Lives Matter in New Haven?” Both called around and couldn’t find a local chapter. “We said, ‘That means we have to start one,’” Miller-Granger said.

In the last year, since August, they talked with community members about what the city would need from a Black Lives Matter chapter. The focus of the chapter is not primarily on police brutality; the organizers aim to offer educational initiatives for neighbors “so we can properly community build,” she said. They started a drive for hats and gloves in January. They began a continuous fundraiser to bring water to people in Flint, Michigan, whose local and state government ignored claims of a poisoned water system for years. As of Thursday, almost 1,700 people had liked the Black Lives Matter New Haven Facebook page.

Going forward, she said, they want a leadership group of five men and five women, and to build a base of supporters around the group. They are trying to raise donations; so far, they have funded all of their actions out of pocket. Many people still don’t know the group exists and is organizing in the city; Miller-Granger wants to change that.

In the last 20 years, she said, she has watched violence spread throughout the city. She recalls Newhallville as a safe neighborhood when she was young in the 1990s, where people would go who hoped for a path to upward mobility.

She said she wants more community services in Newhallville, not more community policing. Young kids hang out in the streets because they have nowhere to go. They need options for productive activities.

“Kings & Queens”

Aliyya Swaby PhotoBlack Lives Matter New Haven organizers are building a mentoring program called “Kings and Queens Initiative” to be offered to low-income children of color starting August 2017. They need volunteers to help write the curricula and eventually serve as mentors to students. The program will serve as an affordable alternative for families that can’t afford to send their children to costly after-school programs, Miller-Granger said.

Though this chapter is focused on education, they can’t ignore the fact that police brutality is an issue that draws a broad audience.

The first protest the chapter led was in early May, when police arrested Jeffrey Agnew and Tyeisha Hellamns outside of Beverage Boss liquor store on Whalley Avenue. The owner of the store called 911 when a dispute between the cashier and customers got heated, and the officers wrestled Agnew to the ground. He said officers hit him in the head and pepper sprayed him and that he did not resist arrest. Cops said he did. Videos did not completely clear up the matter.

They also arrested his friend Hellamns for allegedly interfering with Agnew’s arrest as she filmed it.

Miller-Granger said none of the parties in the incident was totally in the right. But police, as the ones with “force and privilege,” were responsible for de-escalating the situation, she said. “That scared the citizens of New Haven. They thought Jeff was on the sidewalk dead,” she said.

Since Friday, the Black Lives Matter New Haven e-mail account has been pinging non-stop, receiving messages from people who say they have experienced violence at the hands of New Haven police and need help taking next steps. New Haven is a “quiet” city, but police brutality happens here, Miller-Granger said.

“You’re not going to see cops beat on someone in the middle of Dixwell Avenue on Tuesday at 2 p.m.,” she said. But that could happen downtown at 2 a.m. after people flood out of the dance clubs, she said. “It’s easy to cover those kinds of things up.”

Miller-Granger said people think of New Haven as problem-free, just as they consider the northern U.S. anti-racist and safe for people of color. “It’s always been like that, no matter what point we are on in the path of social justice. There’s always been this misconception that it’s not that bad in the North,” she said. “Only because they’re not lynching you in the trees in New Haven.”

At the same time, she is appreciative of the quiet — so her 12-year-old son can grow up without seeing dead bodies in the street.

Her son, a student at charter school Amistad Middle, sees the killings on social media, but not “live-action,” she said.

Pizza Hut Lesson

Lucy Gellman PhotoIn her other life, outside of organizing, Miller-Granger is an employment specialist for a not-for-profit in Hartford. Her parents sent her to Catholic schools throughout New Haven, before she went to live with a relative in Georgia for her first year of high school. She attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the first historically black university to grant degrees in the country. “We lived between the Amish and the KKK,” she said. “Literally.”

Her first experience with what she calls “hard racism,” more pointed than subtle microaggressions or discrimination, happened only recently. She was working as a pizza delivery driver for Pizza Hut from August 2014 until October 2015. During one trip, a man yelled at her, “‘Get out the way, nigger!’”

At the time, she laughed at him, in part out of surprise.

She wasn’t laughing when she spoke last Friday evening to the sea of angry, sobbing protesters, many of whom said they had had violent interactions with officers or had loved ones who did. She was thinking about her son, watching her friends and family in pain.

Miller-Granger has lived at the McConaughy Terrace public-housing development on Valley Street in West Hills for the past six years,. She said her family and friends are regularly stopped and harassed by police when they visit. When she calls police for help, she worries they will arrest her, even if she is on the right side of the law.

Feminism Critique

Miller-Granger hopes for a unified coalition to fight against this fear. She worries that gender divisions are fracturing the black community. She is skeptical of the feminist movement, including black feminism, for pitting men against women in the fight for justice. “It further separates black unity,” she said. “I don’t need a black women feminist and a black men power movement. I need black unity.”

She criticized the mainstream feminist movement for staying quiet when black women were victims of injustice at the hands of police.

“Feminists should have been burning bras in the street when Sandra Bland was killed,” she said.  (Bland was found hanged in a jail cell, after being arrested during a routine traffic stop in Texas last July.) She acknowledged that black feminists did in fact rally attention to Bland’s cause.

Miller-Granger has felt supported by black men in her activism in New Haven. Black men physically offered her protection as she led the march in the middle of Elm Street up to Broadway in peaceful protest Friday.

“Black men were hugging black women. We were all crying. No one made any man who shed a tear feel weak. No one made a woman that shed a tear out there feel weak. You heard men talking about and bigging up their mothers who are in the struggle,” she said. She brings her son to the protests so he can see the positive and supportive relationships, and encourage him to support black women.

“When we were on the Green down there, it was just so much black power,” she said.

Click here to listen to Miller-Granger speak about organizing for Black Lives Matter New Haven.

 

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posted by: denny says on July 17, 2016  10:27am

“Lia Miller-Granger grew up in Newhallville hearing her parents talk about police violence”.

I’m wondering if she ever heard them talk about black on black violence. Newhallville is a high crime ward and her odds of being hurt by another black person are greater than her odds of being hurt by a police officer

posted by: westville man on July 17, 2016  7:09pm

The tired old response to police brutality.  They are PAID and SWORN to protect those they kill and brutalize.  You can’t tell the difference ??  Can’t deal with one issue, so raise another….

posted by: LookOut on July 17, 2016  10:25pm

NHI - in light of the terrible string of recent event, we ask you to please consider your story lines more carefully.  It is understandable to attempt to support a cause but when the story also supports the ‘cops are our enemies’ mindset, it serves not only to further divide us but it also endangers all of the police who are doing the right thing.

posted by: christopher desir on July 18, 2016  8:53am

Thank you Lia. I truly appreciate the work you are doing! And thanks to the NHI for doing this profile.

posted by: T-ski1417 on July 18, 2016  2:07pm

@westville man

Black on black crime has always been an issue, however why just highlight one issue over the other. Let’s deal with them both but one is more prevalent than the other but let’s not address that

posted by: westville man on July 18, 2016  6:12pm

T-ski 1417.  Because we have the right to talk about a single issue. Raising another issue like black on black crime is not relevant to this issue. It’s a red herring.
Imagine if every time someone talk about “breast cancer awareness” someone argued ” what about other cancers…”.  Read the post I responded to and you’ll understand I think.

posted by: westville man on July 18, 2016  9:53pm

Heart attacks are more prevalent but let’s focus on breast cancer ...

posted by: T-ski1417 on July 19, 2016  5:17am

@westvilleman

So your saying that black on black crime is not relevant. It is completely relevant to the issue of BLM and is not a red herring. It’s an issue and fact that no one wants to hear about or address because it does not feed the beast of the anti-police sentiment that is going around.

Is there police brutality and questionable shootings, absolutely, but if BLM then the fight should be across the board not just focused on one group.

Just my opinion.

posted by: christopher desir on July 19, 2016  11:27am

T-ski1417, it might be helpful to read the article closely before you make comments:


“The focus of the chapter is not primarily on police brutality; the organizers aim to offer educational initiatives for neighbors “so we can properly community build,” she said. They started a drive for hats and gloves in January. They began a continuous fundraiser to bring water to people in Flint, Michigan, whose local and state government ignored claims of a poisoned water system for years”

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 19, 2016  5:18pm

Give me a break with this so call black on black crime which is weak because its an argument from a single statistic and does not encompass all the reasons that statistic exists.In fact was does Black on Black crime have to do with the killings of people of color by the police. Would all who say Black on Black crime is relevant to the issue of BLM.Then would you also say that   White on white crime relevant to the issue of police killing people of color?

posted by: Kids_First on July 20, 2016  11:51am

@denny

Police brutality against people of color and black-on-black crime are two separate issues that are BOTH important to the African-American community.  Black-on-black crime is an issue that is always being addressed within our community and churches in various ways that are not always being reported because it is considered “the norm” even though it is as heinous a condition as the alarming reports of police brutality against people of color. Highlighting one does not negate the acknowledgement of another.  I am finding it difficult to understand why anyone has a problem with a movement like Black Lives Matter (as if it means that no other lives matter which is a propaganda-filled farce).  I am in total support of the Black Lives Matter because I am aware of its purpose.  It was formed to address the sudden surge in video-taped occurrences of police officers using excessive force towards black people (sometimes even unto death).  It takes an idiot to assume that one movement negates another or speaks against the issues of another.  It’s like saying “what about the other cancers” during Breast Cancer Awareness month or saying what about other cultural histories during Black History Month…  You don’t throw everything away by highlighting or rallying behind one thing.  I need America to grow up and stop the nonsense.  I’m starting to believe that people have a problem with Black Lives Matter doesn’t believe that black lives matter which also leads me to believe that they, INDEED, don’t truly believe that all lives matter.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on July 21, 2016  6:10pm

@ Razzie,

Would you suggest that everyone black react in the same manner should they too witness a depiction that reminds them of slavery?  Further, wouldn’t you agree that adopting that attitude would be tantamount to taking the law into your own hands?

Sadly, his behavior was heralded by almost all black people on this forum, but certainly not by me.  I call it as I see it. 

In retrospect, I can recall my mother telling me “never touch anything that doesn’t belong to you.”  My response is based, on how I was raised,

Where did yours come from?

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on July 21, 2016  9:20pm

Oops!

My comment should not have been placed with this article.  Sorry!