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Republican state representatives call high school student speakers ‘props’ at State House rally



During yesterday’s rally at the Rhode Island State House announcing the introduction of legislation to ban assault weapons, Rhode Island State Representatives Michael Chippendale (Republican, District 40, Coventry, Foster Glocester) and Justin Price (Republican, District 39, Richmond, Exeter, Hopkinton) referred to the high school students speaking out against gun violence as “just props.”

“Among those around the podium are several high school students,” said Rhode Island resident Judi Zimmer. “One of the reps says something to the effect that these young people are ‘just props.’ Rep. Lauren Carson immediately responded to let them know that the remark was unacceptable and untrue. The other one reiterated the falsehood, and I told him in no uncertain terms that his allegation was utterly false. They didn’t respond, and we walked away.”

“I was immediately upset that anyone would think that teen-agers would be used as props for a political agenda,” said Representative Lauren Carson (Democrat, District 75, Newport) in response to a request for comment. “It sounded so cold and distributing. I turned to my House colleague and said that this was not the case here. I would never approve of using anyone as a political prop. They noted that I would not use anyone and I added that neither would the members of the gun safety rally. I turned and walked away.”

Representatives Price and Chippendale did not respond to a request for comment, but the story will be updated if they do.

“Later at the event,” continued Zimmer, recounting the story on Facebook, “I am standing with good friend and sister warrior Dr Patricia Ricci. We are trying to listen to one of the student speakers, but two men are behind us speaking loudly enough so that we cannot hear. Patricia says, ‘shh,’ and one of the two men says ‘sorry’ in a noticeably snarky manner, turns to the other man and says, ‘this is why we have guns.’ (You may gasp now.)

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“Patricia does not suffer fools gladly and is never intimidated by anyone, laced into that man with all her might, and ultimately, he apologized a bit more appropriately. Come to find out, the snarky guy is a lobbyist at the State House named Henry Boeniger and the man he was talking to (who didn’t say a single word when he made that odious remark) was the City of Providence Commissioner of Public Safety, Steven Paré!”

Reached for comment, Boeniger apologized and said the entire thing was a misunderstanding.

“I was upset by the manner in which the lady told me to be quiet,” wrote Boeniger in an email. “There was a lot of noise beside my conversation with commissioner Paré, who I must say said nothing. My comment was that’s why they can’t get rid of guns, meaning their attitude sometimes. I apologized to both women and told them it was an ignorant statement. The irony is that I am very anti-guns and support their cause very much. Let me once again apologize for making a comment to the ladies who were supporting a good cause.

“One last point: when I mentioned that Commissioner Paré said nothing, I meant he did nothing inappropriate and I told him I had apologized. I don’t know what else can be expected. I am aware this is an emotional issue. Thank you for allowing me to respond.”

Commissioner Paré did not respond to a request for comment, but the story will be updated if he does.

Here’s a video taken minutes after the events in question took place:

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