In response to racist flyers distributed by person(s) unknown across the East Side of Providence, politicians, religious leaders, community activists and concerned residents came together at the corner of George Street and Brook Street to stand against racism and hate. The cover of the racist, tri-folded flyers specifically targeted Jim Vincent, president of the NAACP Providence Branch, accusing him of criminal activity. The flyers also criticized Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza for turning Providence into a “Sanctuary city.” Inside the flyer were unproven criminal allegations against many Providence residents, including at least one minor.
[You can read about the flyers at Rhode Island Relevant.]
After hearing about the flyers, Elorza reached out to Vincent. The pair decided that there was, “no sense in responding to this,” said Elorza. “This is foolishness. And no sense in giving [the flyer] any publicity in that it didn’t deserve a response.
“Later on, we actually read the inside [of the flyer],” continued Elorza. “And after reading the inside, we spoke once again. I spoke to Pilar [McCloud] (see: below) and I spoke to other members of the community and we all agreed: This wasn’t a personal attack [on Jim Vincent]. This was an attack on an entire community. This was an attack coming from a certain ideology, an ideology that frankly is on the rise across the country, and we’re seeing in our city as well. This is an assault on the values we hold dear and the principles by which we live our lives in Providence.
“We are an inclusive city. We are a caring city. We are a kind city,” said Elorza.
“Good afternoon!” said Pilar McCloud, who helps lead the NAACP Providence Youth Council. “It’s a brisk one, isn’t it? But it is never too cold to stand on the side off justice. We stand here united, as a community, residents of Providence, Rhode Island to say that racism of any kind will not be tolerated in our streets. And if we see, if we hear it or we find it, we will stamp it out like the cancerous sore that it is.”
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“We need to come together,” said Juan Carter is the director of the Nonviolence Streetworker Outreach Program at the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence. “We have to figure out a way, collectively, as a city, as a people, to attack this problem. And I think we can, because there’s a lot of love around us here today… You have to stand up against racism, because if your not, you’re just as worse as the people who are doing the racism.”
Jim Vincent did not make it personal. “I’m both sad and inspired,” said Vincent. “I’m sad that there are still people trying to scapegoat my community. I’m sad because people are still trying to create racism in our community. It is unacceptable to target anybody in our community. If you target one, you target all…
“It is unacceptable to target minor children in flyers, with their names in it,” continued Vincent. “That is unacceptable. That is disgusting. and we will not tolerate it… If you think a flyer or a pamphlet is going to do any more than bring us closer together than we ever were before, then you are sadly mistaken.”
“How many more times do we have to gather together like this to root out the systemic racism and hatred that’s happening in our city and throughout or state?” asked Providence City Council President David Salvatore (Ward 14). “The answer to that question is simple. We will do this as many times as it takes to root out the hatred and the racism that continue to plague our community…”
The event was held in the neighborhood represented by Providence City Councilor Seth Yurdin (Ward 1). “The inspiring component of this is the number of young people that are here today, and I just want to say to them that they need to continue doing what they’re doing. Make your voices heard, stand up with all of us because this has been going on for so long…”
Providence City Councilor Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3) presented a powerful reading of the poem Still I Rise, by Maya Angelou.
“When I was a kid, because I was Haitian-American and undocumented, we had neighbors who lived next to us and who would always taunt us and make racial slurs and tell us to go back to our country and use the n-word against us,” said LaFortune. “But I still remember what my father would always tell us. He would tell us that they’re doing it out of fear. Because they are afraid, They are afraid our your presence. They are afraid of what you bring. They are afraid of your knowledge. They are afraid of your power.
“So whoever is doing this, is doing this out of fear.”
“Providence is a great city with great people that welcomes everyone,” said Providence Commissioner of Public Safety Steven Paré. “Whether you are here legally or illegally, whether you are young or old, we welcome you here in Providence. Because love will always root out hate…”
Others have condemned the racist flyers. Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo said that there is no room for such bigotry on Rhode Island Latino Public Radio.
“It is disturbing on every level that this type of bigotry exists in our community and that other political leaders do not voice their outrage,” said the Chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Joseph McNamara. “I’ve said this before: our silence implies consent. Our party does not stand for racism and bigotry and I call on our Republican counterparts to say the same. I also call on whoever was responsible for this hateful brochure to show some backbone by publicly accepting responsibility for the hateful remarks and do something positive instead to advance the conversation about race relations,” McNamara said.
Hope and Change for Haiti, a Cranston nonprofit organization that aims to improve the quality of life of the Haitian community and contribute to progress in Haiti and the Cranston Action Network, a group of concerned residents of Cranston and neighboring communities, co-authored a statement in defense of Jim Vincent, while also condemning the flyers. They “strongly condemn the flyer, and all personal attacks against community activists. We vigorously condemn all forms of discrimination, bigotry, hate, intimidation, racism, xenophobia, and violence perpetrated in our state based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and ethnicity. We stand in solidarity and respect with Cranston resident Jim Vincent, as well as anyone who opposes hate and encourages equity and inclusion in Rhode Island.”
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