No justice in New Haven

Journalist Nicholas Dawidoff tells the tragic story of Bobby Johnson and his neighborhood on the poor, Black side of town. 

In The Other Side of Prospect, what first appears to be a straightforward case of a murder and wrongful conviction becomes the story of a forgotten community in a divided nation. Journalist Nicholas Dawidoff weaves together history and biography to trace the rise and fall of Newhallville, a formerly thriving middle-class neighborhood in New Haven, Connecticut, that is now beset with poverty and gun violence. In gripping prose, he shows that every tragedy has a hidden history, and he exposes the forces—from slavery to Jim Crow and mass incarceration—that have produced inequality and injustice in New Haven.

The book, the product of eight years of research and interviews, centers on the killing of Pete Fields during the summer of 2006. A retired grandfather and stalwart of the community, Fields grew up in Newhallville before doing well enough working in a factory to move his family to the suburbs. But he returned to the neighborhood regularly to visit friends and play cards. It was on such a visit that Fields was robbed and gunned down in his car.

The subsequent outcry put pressure on police to solve the case. Bobby Johnson, a 16-year-old known for hanging around a corner store close to the crime scene, became the primary suspect. Bobby, who was “unfinished enough as a person that older relatives thought of him as both unworldly and over-trusting,” was arrested even though he had an alibi and another local resident was a clear suspect. After a grueling interrogation, Bobby confessed to the crime, assured he would receive probation. Instead, he was given a 38-year sentence.