Editorial & Opinion

The Uprising, March 29, 2019

Wyatt Detention Center is a “failed project brought to life during one of the darkest period’s in our city’s history.” – Central Falls Mayor James Diossa Because there isn’t enough to deal with in Rhode island, ICE has decided to detain undocumented immigrants at Wyatt Detention Center… Let’s do this! 1a. Wyatt Detention Center After last week’s revelation by the
Photo for The Uprising, March 29, 2019

Published on March 29, 2019
By Steve Ahlquist

Wyatt Detention Center is a “failed project brought to life during one of the darkest period’s in our city’s history.”

– Central Falls Mayor James Diossa

Because there isn’t enough to deal with in Rhode island, ICE has decided to detain undocumented immigrants at Wyatt Detention Center…

Let’s do this!

1a. Wyatt Detention Center

After last week’s revelation by the Rhode Island ACLU that United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would once more be detaining undocumented immigrants at Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, Rhode Island, Mayor James Diossa and members of the Central Falls City Council held and emergency meeting to address the issue.

James Diossa

Diossa’s message was blunt: “…it is clear to me that the Wyatt Detention Center, a failed project brought to life during one of the darkest periods in our city’s history, has proven to be a failed corporation. Not only is it unsustainable and broken, it stands as a massive brick and barbed wire monument to out of control capitalism, corporate greed and social injustice.

“Simply put, the Wyatt Detention Center needs to be shut down immediately,” continued the Mayor. “Therefore, I have instructed our City Solicitor to pursue all legal avenues towards this end.”

Maria Rivera

City Council President Maria Rivera (at large) was equally blunt about what she sees as her duty to the undocumented residents of her City.

“Central Falls is home to more than 19,000 residents,” said Rivera, “and over 74 percent are American citizens which means that a significant number are not citizens and are part of those I represent in the same way, and will continue to fight for, today, tomorrow and always, just as if they were American citizens.”

State Representative Shelby Maldonado (Democrat, District 56, Central Falls) has promised General Assembly action on this issue as early as next week, so stay tuned.

1b. Protest

Directly after Mayor Diossa’s “emergency meeting” AMOR (Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance) organized a march from Central Falls City Hall to Wyatt Detention Center where a protest and noise demonstration lasted until 8:30pm.

When they arrived at Wyatt the protesters made noise and shined lights on the windows of the prison, to let those incarcerated know that they are not forgotten, and that there are people on the outside working for their release. This picture from the amazing photographer Selene Means, shows the reaction of at least some inside the prison:

Photo (c)2019 Selene Means

1c. United States Conference of Mayors

“Our nation is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis along the Southern border, and it is spreading to cities across the nation,” said he United States Conference of Mayors President, Columbia, South Carolina Mayor Steve Benjamin. “While the crisis is most serious in El Paso, where federal and local authorities have neither the resources nor the facilities to handle the current influx of asylum seekers and other immigrants, it is being felt as far away as Central Falls, Rhode Island where ICE is sending more than 200 detainees to be housed in a local jail. We stand with El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and the mayors of all of the cities that have been impacted by this crisis and who must respond to it.

“In the short term, Congress needs to provide emergency funding to support federal and local agencies as they try to accommodate the increasing number of people crossing the border and requesting asylum. In the long term, Congress and the Administration need to get to the root of the problem and fix our broken immigration system.”

1d. Rhode Island Immigrant Coalition

The Rhode Island Immigrant Coalition1, a group (listed below) of more than thirty community organizations and agencies organized to support immigrants in Rhode Island, opposes the detention of immigrants at the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls and is calling for the:

  • Revocation of the contract with ICE for detention of immigrants at the Wyatt Detention Center; and that
  • Detained immigrants’ immediate access to legal, pastoral, health, social and human services, and basic human rights.

“In addition to the critical concerns regarding the detention of immigrants and the welfare of immigrants detained, the Coalition calls for the closure of the Wyatt Detention Center.”

1e. More protest

2. Providence Water

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza‘s “community conversations” about leasing the Providence Water Supply to bail put the City’s pension system did not go very well. The last meeting was on the East Side of Providence and when a woman in attendance asked people to raise there hands in order to gauge the “temperature of the room” as regards the plan to lease the water, the vast majority in attendance were opposed to the plan. Maybe five were for the idea, and a smattering of people were undecided.

Of interest was that two of the people who raised their hands in support of the plan to lease the water were former Ward 2 City Councilor Sam Zurier and Attorney Seth Handy, who is known as an environmental lawyer despite having worked hard at the General Assembly to push through a bill that would allow the burning of biomass to generate electricity last year. (See item 1a here and this piece.)

Seth Handy is Providence City Councilor Helen Anthony (Ward 2)’s law partner. (See item 2c here.)

The opposition to the water leasing plan continues to grow. Water Is Life – Land & Water Sovereignty Campaign, a group established to protect water in Rhode Island from corporate despoliation, plans to push through an ordinance – either legislatively or by referendum – that would prevent Providence from selling or leasing the water.

Baltimore passed legislation like this last November:

The measure “sends a strong message to private corporations,” said Rianna Eckel, Maryland state organizer for Food & Water Watch, an advocacy group that promoted the ballot initiative.

“It prohibits any asset sales or leases of the system,” she added. “It’s not a sure-fire trick to prevent any privatization ever, but it prohibits the most dangerous efforts,” she added.

Providence resident Margaret O’Donnell spoke for many in attendance at the last community conversation when she said, ““Why are you willing to put the water supply of the entire state at risk with climate change coming? Water is going to be so scarce that we’re going to be killing each other for it… They tell us we only have 12 years left and you’re sitting here at the start of this catastrophe selling off our water supply because we have a pension problem?”

3. Invenergy

I’ve been neglecting my Invenergy reporting lately because I’ve been so damn busy with so much other stuff. I promise to catch up soon, but I have to present this short clip from Thursday’s cross-examination of Invenergy’s Director of Development John Niland.

To set it up, Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer has just asked the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) to make public information that Invenergy has kept secret as proprietary. Among the many reasons Elmer cited for making the information public was the “public’s right to know.”

Chicago based Invenergy Attorney Michael Blazer objected, of course, saying, “There is no exception to confidential information for what Mr Elmer claims to be the public’s right to know. Confidential information is confidential information: It supersedes the public’s right to know, if there is any such right.”

EFSB Chair Margaret Curran cleared the room so that the board could hear testimony on the information deemed secret by Invenergy.

This is how corporations beat us: They claim the rights of persons, and deny persons their rights. Here’s a quick primer on the public’s right to know.

And here’s a question: If the information presented during the EFSB hearings to grant or deny a permit to Invenergy for their $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant is somehow thought to be the deciding factor in the case, the public will never know why the power plant was approved or denied. If the information presented in these closed sessions is weighty enough to influence the decision for or against the power plant in even a minor way, the public will never know. Is this the way we want to decide on things in a free and open democracy?

4. Young Voices RI

Providence Public School students engaged with Young Voices RI issued a report on Tuesday showing that 49 percent of Providence Public School students, “disagree that teachers handle discipline issues fairly” and 69 percent of students agree that, “adults at my school don’t understand what my life is like outside of school.”

The report provides quotes from students addressing some issues. For instance, under the heading “Need for academics to be taught in ways that are engaging and relevant to the 21st Century economy” students are quoted as saying:

“If we really want to look at really improving the dropout rate of our schools we have to look at how we are going to engage students in the classroom.”

“We need our classes to be more interactive so students are engaged with their learning.”

You can read the full report here.

Students spoke at the press conference about their research, and the effect doing the research with Young Voices RI has had on their lives.

“We are low-income girls of color that are leading an effort to address the root causes of disparities facing our peers in Providence Public Schools,” said Marie Shabani, the board secretary of Young Voices RI. “We want to make sure girls of color graduate high school, attend college and complete college…

“Being born in a country where women are not allowed to have education, we must fight for women to have an equal education to men. Because when we have women of color graduating, we have a lot more perspective on the table, and we go on to do great things so we can help others in a situation like them.”

5. Rhode Island Democratic Party

At last Sunday’s Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP) State Committee hearing all eyes were on the race for RIDP Chair and Secretary. On Friday, Representative Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence) challenged Representative Joseph McNamara (Democrat, District 19, Warwick) for the position of Chair of the Party. Also, Representative Teresa Tanzi (Democrat, District 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown) challenged conservative Representative Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence) for the position of Secretary of the Party. Neither won their challenge as the vast amount of Democrats in the room went with centrist or conservative candidates.

Lauren Niedel has her view of the meeting here.

My view? There’s a reason we keep our voting private. Roll call votes are intimidating and serve the interests of those in power, not the interests of voters.

6a. Kindness

During his second inaugural address in January, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza announced a “kindness initiative.”

Responding to Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s call for a “kindness initiative” the Muslim Community in Providence, opened Masjid Al Kareem, the Islamic Center of Rhode Island, to the public to hear from speakers representing various faiths, as well as United States Senator Jack Reed (Democrat, Rhode Island) and United States Representative David Cicilline (Democrat, Rhode Island).

The event was titled, “Know Your Muslim Neighbor.”

The event was in the shadow of the recent violence, when a white nationalist gunman killed 50 people and wounded 50 at a mosque and Islamic center in New Zealand, but this event was planned long before the tragedy.

6b. Freedom of Conscience

“Outside these doors, emblazoned above the State House steps, is an inscription which reminds us of our roots:


“This is the central philosophical question concerning reproductive rights in Rhode Island,” said Jeffery Sathyadev Branch, a Karma Yogi. “Should the convictions of one faith tradition dictate law and policy for the reproductive health of everyone in our state? This question, when posed plainly seems easy to answer. We already answered it, and we carved our answer in stone: No.”

Branch was speaking in the Rhode Island State house Library as part of the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Reproductive Freedom. He was joined by religious leaders and believers from a variety of faiths to support the passage of the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA) S0152A and the Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA) H5125A, which would affirm the right to abortion in the state of Rhode Island.

7. Red Bandana Awards

The Red Bandana Fund seeks nominations for the Red Bandana Award, given annually since 2013 to a person or organization in the Rhode Island area that embodies the spirit and work of late organizer for peace and justice, Richard Walton.

“We’re happy to continue to recognize people in our area doing good hard work to make the world a better place,” board member Bill Harley said. “With the news cycle as fast as it is, and the craziness of our national scene, it’s good to take a step back and honor the people around us trying to make a difference.” The award will be presented on Sunday, June 9, at the 8th annual Red Bandana Celebration at the Fireman’s Memorial Hall in Providence.

Last year’s award was presented Henrietta White-Holder, founder and director of Higher Ground International, that serves the West African community in Providence and abroad, and Linda Finn, director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence.

“National issues are local issues,” noted Steve Graham, head of the Red Bandana board. “Immigration, income disparity, climate change, and violence affect all of us, and we want to honor those who are making a difference It’s grassroots. That’s who we are.”

The nomination deadline is April 15th. To submit a nomination see here.

8. ConvergenceRI

A new COBRE center at Butler Hospital focused on neuromodulation positions Rhode Island to become on the cutting edge of research involving non-invasive brain stimulation techniques writes Richard Asinof.

9. ecoRI

I may be falling behind in my Invenergy coverage but as usual, Tim Faulkner at ecoRI is picking up my slack:

DEM Wildlife Expert Testifies Proposed Power Plant Presents ‘Unacceptable Harm’

10. Picture of the week:

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