With the General Assembly on break you’d think it would be a slower news week but Rhode Island never disappoints. Let’s do this!
1. Racial profiling
“This is my first time organizing on this level, but I had to stand up and say something because of what happened to my family,” said Sian Seng, mother to Athan and Aylei, at a protest in Providence City Hall. “On April 4th my children and nephew were subjected to an illegal police stop and search based on their race. I wasn’t there to defend my family but I’m standing here today to speak about this. This was my children’s first time interacting with police and it was such a horrible and terrifying experience.”
Seng’s children and nephew were stopped and searched by members of the Providence Police Department in an apparent violation of the Community Safety Act, an ordinance passed to protect Providence residents from exactly this kind of police overreach.
The protest outside Mayor Jorge Elorza‘s office was organized by the Community Defense Project, a program at the Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), who is working with the Seng family to get their demands met. Their list of demands include a full investigation into the traffic stop, as well as an apology to the family.
Check out Selene Mean’s photos of the event here. Here’s a sample:
2. The co-option of Black institutions
On Thursday evening well over 100 community members filled the South Side Community Center for a meeting convened by Providence City Councilor Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11) to look into the surprising news that the historic, 90-year old John Hope Settlement House will be turning over 98 percent of it’s space to a newly forming charter school. The Wangari Maathai Community School plans to open a K-8 charter school at John Hope in the 2019-2020 school year, pending final approval from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). The school is to be named for Wangarĩ Muta Maathai, a renowned Kenyan social, environmental and political activist and the first African woman to win the Nobel laureate.
The meeting was occasionally heated, as the community’s attachment to the John Hope Settlement House runs deep and has historic roots. Many expressed doubt in the current board, and it is well known that John Hope has been a troubled institution for some time now. Still, in addition to keeping the charter school out, many in attendance were also hoping to save and revitalize John Hope.
Many who attended the meeting felt that the way the school is being organized is an attempt by West Side gentrifiers to exclude local, West End youth from the student selection process. There is some evidence of this.
For instance, the outreach plan seems woefully underdeveloped, and the first lottery for students has reportedly already been conducted, with no outreach in the area around John Hope. In fact, the lottery was conducted before John Hope was known to be in the running for the school’s location.
At the meeting, it was said that the John Hope Settlement House board “signed an agreement” with the school with only two board members voting against the agreement. However, John Hope board member Anastasia Williams, who is also a state representative representing District 9 in Providence as a Democrat, denied having seen the document in question. Here’s the document that was being passed around. I have been unable to verify its authenticity with Wangari Maathai Community School officials. In an email I was told that school organizers may be able to answer my questions sometime around midweek, next week, so stay tuned.
3. Hate crimes against the homeless
The homeless rights community called for “a broader response to the attack on a woman who was preparing to sleep outside in downtown Providence on January 2, 2019.” As reported by the Providence Journal, Eileen Boarman was attacked with a knife sometime around 1am. The injury she sustained required surgery, and she will need ongoing rehabilitation to regain the full use of her hand. A man has been arrested and charged in connection with the crime.
“It is a housing issue,” said Eileen Boarman. “There are very many incidents and experiences that were not good that I had in shelters from the time I became homeless that made me feel that the only safe place for me to be is on the street… I survived for four years out on the street…”
“…until this attack occurred, which made it even unsafe for me to sleep on the street.”
“The knife assault upon her is doubt a horrible act, and the person who committed the crime should be held accountable for it,” said Megan Smith, facilitator of the Rhode Island Bill of Rights Defense Committee, which works to combat the criminalization of homelessness and to advocate with and for people dealing with homelessness. “By Rhode Island statutory definition, it is a hate crime. It is a crime motivated by bigotry or bias against a person who is homeless, or perceived to be homeless.
“From what we hear from people living on the streets or in shelters, these crimes happen all too frequently despite the fact that no instances have been recorded with the State Police. It is also important to realize how the attack was enabled by how we structure our systems of care and the culture in which we live.”
4. For-profit prison-industrial complex
Mere days after being found in violation of the Open Meetings Act, the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation (CFDFC), now operating under a new board of directors, has once more violated the spirit, if not the letter of the law. The CFDFC oversees operations at the Donald W Wyatt Detention Facility, a for-profit prison in Central Falls.
On Sunday morning, at a hastily scheduled 9am meeting, the CFDFC met to discuss the recent lawsuit against the board, Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, and members of the Central Falls City Council by the bondholders who invested in the for-profit prison to the tune of $130 million. At that meeting the board voted to stay the suspension of the facility’s contract with the United States Marshall Service to house United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees as part of President Donald Trump’s zero tolerance southwest border policy.
I filed an Open Meetings Act complaint with the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office against the Wyatt Board. See the Providence Journal coverage by Kevin Andrade here.
Meanwhile, the editorial side of the Providence Journal, which continually schills for corporate evils like fossil fuels, has proudly picked up the private prison banner, writing, “Unfortunately for Central Falls, there is something called fiduciary responsibility that may trump such political activism…
“…You have to wonder, watching this play out, whether city officials have a clear understanding of their responsibilities.
“Certainly, Central Falls, a poor city that remains to some extent a ward of the state, seems to be in a weak position to scorn the bondholders that have funded the facility. City leaders are probably going to have to look more carefully at the legal grounds for their actions affecting the Wyatt Detention Facility, however abhorrent the federal government’s enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws may be to the ethos of the city.”
5. The Mueller Report
No member of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation was happy with the long awaited report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which examined the links between Russian interference in the 2017 election and Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign. At a press conference in his Pawtucket office, Representative David Cicilline said, “This is a damning report on the misconduct of the sitting President of the United States and in the Special Counsel’s own words, ‘does not exonerate the President.’
“It details unacceptable, unpatriotic, and unethical conduct and a sustained effort by the President to obstruct the Special Counsel’s investigation.
“The Mueller Report established without doubt that the Russians, in a sophisticated and effective intelligence campaign, attacked our democracy in the 2016 Presidential campaign.
“What is even more disturbing in some ways, is that these efforts were embraced and encouraged by candidate, Donald J Trump. The report concludes that the Trump team was aware and openly supportive of Russian attempts to interfere in the election because ‘the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.’
“The Trump campaign benefited from this attack on our democracy and the President has, according to the evidence collected, attempted to impede or interfere with the investigation of these matters…”
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse writes that his initial reactions are:
- The redacted report details an alarming account of Russian interference in our elections — one of sufficient magnitude, touching 120 million Americans and involving massive thefts of campaign information, to have tipped the close election in Trump’s favor. Russia may have chosen our President.
- The Russian/Wikileaks influence campaign engaged with multiple Trump campaign personnel, including direct communication with Trump family; and Trump’s circle repeatedly engaged with Russian interests seeking political advantage in the race. The conduct is disgraceful and unpatriotic if not criminal.
- The report chronicles a sordid tale of low-life behavior, with Trump and his associates engaging in all manner of legally and ethically dubious behavior; and has so far produced 200 criminal charges, 37 indictments, and eight convictions – including Donald Trump’s former campaign manager.
- The redacted report references 14 other investigations and includes over 400 redactions that signal ongoing investigative matters. The ongoing investigations reach very close to Trump and his circle, including right into his Trump Tower personal office, so clearly this is not over.
- The report’s obstruction decision was influenced by the OLC policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted, a policy not tested in the judicial branch. Even thus, the President could not be exonerated. Despite the centrality of intent to this determination, the President was not subpoenaed or interviewed.
- Concerns about delay as an excuse for not interviewing the President seem ill-founded, given the lengthy negotiations resulting in no subpoena and the value of accuracy and completeness in criminal investigations. Unless you are up against a charging deadline, time is not ordinarily such a priority over accuracy and completeness as to the central element of the charge.
- The President’s conduct regarding the investigation manifestly violates any fealty to rule of law, and more closely resembles deliberate efforts to interfere and obstruct, akin to banana republic governance. Only fearful subordinates prevented his efforts at actual obstruction under criminal law.
- It is odd to refuse to charge the President or his circle because they were unaware of the illegality of their collusive conduct, and then protect the President from obstruction charges on grounds of intent because he had committed no underlying Russia conspiracy crime, something he did not know. He did know he was the subject of a criminal obstruction investigation. There is a lot of contortion around the obstruction decision.
- The report exposes an extraordinary number of false statements made by Trump and his circle. These are not chargeable as false statements because they were not made in the course of official proceedings, but nevertheless reveal a likely unprecedented trail of falsehood by an American President
“Our job in Congress in the coming months is to conduct a full and public accounting; the effect on the investigation of the Justice Department’s internal policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted and the many peculiarities around the obstruction decision only heighten Congress’s role,” writes Whitehouse. “Attorney General Barr’s performance regarding the report is a mixed bag. I have no reason to believe his redactions to the report were not made justifiably and in good faith. On the other hand he has over the past few weeks used his office to perform what I consider to be inappropriate PR services for the Trump White House: rosy summary language creating White House “spin” opportunities; delay in releasing the redacted report allowing the “spin” to set; and the deliberate use of inappropriate language feeding conspiracy theories favored by Trump, derogatory to DOJ agencies. The contrast between the speed with which the obstruction decision was made and the delay in getting redactions done is notable. It is more important than ever that the Senate Judiciary Committee have an open hearing with Barr, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, and Special Counsel Mueller.”
Senator Jack Reed writes that, “What remains clear in this report is that Russia, including Russian Military Intelligence Units, attacked our democracy in 2016. What’s even more disturbing is today’s confirmation that these actions were embraced and encouraged by President Trump. The Mueller report shows President Trump is the beneficiary of a foreign adversary’s efforts and assistance, someone who puts himself above the law, and a bully who sought to thwart this investigation. While he refused to sit down with Special Counsel Mueller, the President still owes the American people a truthful explanation.
“Congress has many responsibilities, including doing more to help those Americans hurt by the President’s so-called economic policies, but Congress also has a duty to the Constitution and to oversight. Simply letting the President’s Attorney General release a partial report that was misleadingly summarized prior to its publication is unacceptable under any Administration. This investigation was not a witch hunt, and it did not originate because of a deep-state conspiracy or the Steele dossier as the Special Counsel confirms.
“Attorney General Barr clearly misrepresented and mischaracterized the Special Counsel’s report and has done a disservice to the impartiality of his office and this Department of Justice.
“It is imperative that Mr Mueller and his team brief Congress directly on their findings and testify in a public setting. Congress must fulfill its Constitutional oversight duty and do so in a timely manner.
“Any American should be deeply troubled at the behavior of the President here, and neither he nor his Administration should feel somehow vindicated. Indeed, the Special Counsel’s statement that ‘…the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts…’ should be seen as a singularly damning statement by every American. Nor should the report’s finding that ‘At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state’ be taken as anything other than an ominous and dark stain on this presidency.”
6. A message from the future
Here’s the film from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Democrat, New York) a fictional account about how her Green New Deal legislation began the process of saving the world. It’s a pretty dramatic and stirring picture of a brave new world. One thing in particular piqued my curiosity: Hurricane Sheldon. In the film, Hurricane Sheldon is said to have submerged parts of Miami, as an example of unavoidable, future climate change disasters.
My question is: Is Hurricane Sheldon named for Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse?
Here’s the movie:
7. Kristen’s Law
The Rhode Island ACLU and the Substance Use Policy, Education and Recovery PAC (SUPER PAC) have joined forces to call upon South Kingstown Police Chief Joseph Geaber Jr and South Kingstown elected official to drop charges in violation of the “Duty to assist” law against Julia Martin.
Julia Martin was using fentanyl with a person who began to overdose. Instead of offering “reasonable assistance,” Martin fled the scene. The person overdosing reportedly suffered “grave physical harm” as a result.
This was a predicted and knowable outcome of passing bad laws based on political expediency rather than good science.
In the letter from the ACLU RI and SUPER PAC, it is explained that the 911 Good Samaritan law is limited in scope. “In 2018, according to data provided by the Attorney General’s office, there were seven occasions when someone was protected by the Good Samaritan law for calling 911 during an overdose in South Kingstown, but three times in which someone was still criminally charged after making the call. Providence was the only municipality in the state that charged more people with crimes after making calls for help.”
In my piece, I write about the long road to passing Kristen’s Law, and the elected leaders of our state who repeatedly ignored good science and expert opinions in order to look “tough on crime” during an election year. Particularly shameful is the behavior of Dr Nicole Alexander-Scott, executive director at the Rhode Island Department of Health, who failed to stand up to Governor Gina Raimondo over this important issue.
8. Minimum wage
Jacob Brier is a member of the Barrington Town Council. He is proposing a $15 minimum wage for all municipal town employees at an upcoming May 22 Barrington Financial Town Meeting.
“Is Barrington a town that will choose to invest in its municipal employees, paying them a justified, earned, and livable minimum wage?”asks Brier in his statement. “Are we a community of people who will set an example for the businesses in our town, the rest of our state, and our nation?
“I believe we are. I believe in Barrington.”
The Rhode Island General Assembly, on the other hand, does not believe in Barrington, or any other municipality when it comes to the minimum wage. It was in 2014 that the ability of local cities and times to set minimum wages was taken away by the General Assembly as part of a budget amendment. At the time, hotel workers in Providence were poised to push the City of Providence into a referendum on a $15 minimum wage. Nicholas Mattiello had just taken over as Speaker of the House.
“…the entire reason this was being discussed in the General Assembly at all was because a small group of hotel workers, men and women working long hours for little pay and less respect, dared to believe that their democratically-elected government might work for them, instead of for the powerful forces of money and business.
“One can imagine the panic on the faces of the new leadership in the House as they realized that people were rising up and demanding economic policies and laws that benefited the many over the few and the have-nots over the haves. One can further imagine the smug look of satisfaction that passed over their faces as they crafted a plan to take away the tiny amount of political power these working mothers and fathers had access to.”
Rhode Island, considered a pro-union,state, is the only New England state to embrace anti-worker, ALEC-inspired, right-wing labor pre-emption laws.
9. Stop & Shop
The Stop & Shop strike has been tough for families that have been forced to change their shopping habits, but it’s been a whole lot tougher on the workers, who stand outside the markets night and day, fair weather or foul.
Here’s An overview of the Stop & Shop strike from David Cazares.
10. Tax fraud
Tax fraud is an illegal business practice commonplace in the service industries, disproportionately affecting construction and hotel workers. Rather than retain and pay workers as employees, which requires the payment of payroll taxes, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation, unscrupulous employers illegally classify their workers as independent contractors. This deprives workers of basic services that they may need in the event of injury or public services later in life, like Social Security.
On Monday, the Carpenters Local Union 330 held a State House rally to call attention to this practice.
11. Reproductive Health Care Act
With the General Assembly back in session next week, efforts are resuming to codify Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law. The Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, The Womxn Project and other groups are callings on the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee to bring the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA) (S0152A) to the floor and pass it without amendments. Depending on who you talk too, passing this bill this year is either on track, or hopeless.
12. Governor Raimondo’s neoliberal pep talk
According to Governor Gina Raimondo, speaking at the Santander Economic Outlook Breakfast, Rhode Island is one large public-private partnership.
“All the people who make it happen in Rhode Island are here this morning,” said Raimondo, referring to the audience in attendance, predominantly business owners and high level business administrators. “So I’m quite optimistic actually that with this public-private collection and public-private partnership we will be able to sustain the momentum that we have and really solve any problems that may be coming our way…”
“We need to be swimming in the stream of growth,” said Raimondo. “You know who’s growing. You’ve seen the explosion in data science. You’ve seen the explosion in digital. We want that in Rhode Island. So we’re doing everything we can to attract those companies and support those companies…
“Rhode Island’s ready. We have momentum like we haven’t had in a long time. And we’re going to sustain that momentum by being urgent and being pro-business, but also investing in our people.”
13. Earned income tax credit
Andy Boardman delivers an excellent piece on the importance of the earned income tax credit and the importance of expanding “effective anti-poverty program, and one of few such programs to earn any semblance of bipartisan support.”
14. Dual language education
Christopher Sanacore hopes you’ll join him in support of the World Language/Dual Language bills (S0198 and H5192) that would go a long way to ensure proper funding for immersion programs via the institution of permanent world language leadership at Rhode Island Department of Education that would lend itself to establishing exemplary models for bilingual success. He’ll be at Rhode Island’s first Multilingual Education Advocacy Day at the State House on Tuesday, April 23, 2019 from 3:00-5:00pm.
Rhode Island Rights and the Rhode Island Anti-War Committee held a rally outside the Federal Courthouse in downtown Providence against the United States government’s “unprecedented project to jail those who keep the public informed through the media.”
Specifically, the ralliers were calling attention to the re-imprisonment of Chelsea Manning here in the United States and the recent detention of Julian Assange in Great Britain.
15b. Chelsea Manning Week at Brown University
“In solidarity with Chelsea Manning and in preparation for similar events for Julian Assange, Brown War Watch is hosting “Chelsea Solidarity Week” from April 22nd to 26th. The week will feature two main events and several smaller events spread across New England. First is a panel discussion on April 24th from 5:30 to 7:00 pm in Smith-Buonanno Rm. 106 entitled Whistleblowing in American Empire. The panel will feature legal and academic experts Naoko Shibusawa, Lida Maxwell and Sonali Chakravarti and will treat Ms Manning’s centrality to the whistleblower movement.”
On the following day, April 25th, from 5:30-6:30 pm, students and activists from across New England will demand Manning’s immediate release during the #StandOutForChelsea protest. Activists near Providence will convene on the Faunce Steps on Brown’s main green.
16. West Virginia’s Stephen Smith
West Virginia, says 39 year-old Democrat Stephen Smith, who is running a grassroots, ground up campaign for Governor, is thought of as a red state, a state where the people vote against their own interests, yet, “for 80 years Democrats have held power in West Virginia, and the lives of poor and working people got worse. Especially over the last 20 and 30 years. That is a fact. So when you have a vast array of voters abandoning a party, the best thing to do is not to say, ‘Y’all don’t know what’s going on,’ – but to listen. And if you listen to West Virginians, the people who put them in the dire straits we’re talking about were mostly Democrats.”
Smith was in Providence at the home of a college friend, fundraising and raising awareness about his campaign.
17. The Bartholomewtown Podcast
- Stephen Smith (gubernatorial candidate, West Virginia)
- Scott MacKay (political analyst, The Public’s Radio)
18. Caught in Rhode Island: An investigation into how court fees and fines trap low-income Rhode Islanders in poverty
An extraordinary work of journalism from The College Hill Independent by by Sydney Anderson, Harry August, Matt Ishimaru, Olivia Kan-Sperling, Sophie Khomtchenko, Alina Kulman, Julia Rock, Nick Roblee-Strauss and Lucas Smolcic Larson.
“In Rhode Island and across the country, the well-off easily pay court costs, dodging prison and further involvement with the legal system, while low-income defendants, disproportionately people of color, are cast headlong into a cycle of debt. Often, these individuals must choose between meeting basic expenses, like rent, and paying the courts to avoid being locked up. Within a criminal justice system that time and time again produces punitive outcomes for low-income communities, subjecting them to harsh policing and incarceration, fees and fines are a quiet but far-reaching burden.”
Failures of R.I.’s Climate Response Highlighted at Public Forum by Tim Faulkner
20. Providence Daily Dose
Ruggerio Cancels Democracy — Call Your Senators! by Beth Comery
21. The Public’s Radio
22. Picture of the Week:
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