“If they’ll use this kind of violence on us,” asked former State Representative Aaron Regunberg, “think about what the defenseless detainees inside are subjected to, every day.”
One minute the sitting protesters were laughing, chanting, praying or singing as they waited for the Central Falls Police Department to arrest them for blocking the entrance to a parking lot across the street from the Wyatt Detention Center. The next minute, protesters and bystanders were rolling out of the way of a black pickup truck that managed to hit at least four protesters, sending two of them to the hospital. One of those sent to the hospital was Jerry Belair, a lawyer.
The protest, organized by Never Again Providence, targeted the Wyatt due to the prison’s contract with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), highlight ICE’s inhumane treatment of immigrants here in Rhode Island and across the country, and “work to shut down ICE’s deportation machine for as long as possible.” This was the second protest Never Again Providence staged outside the Wyatt.
The Wyatt is a for profit prison.
After the pickup truck hit several protesters, more protesters surrounded the truck, some linking arms to prevent the vehicle from moving forward. the correctional officer inside the vehicle spoke on his communication equipment and waited. Seconds later around a dozen more correctional officers approached the vehicle and the protesters, telling people to “Back up!” and strong arming people back.
There were some altercations between the correctional officers and protesters. Then one or two correctional officers used pepper spray indiscriminately on the crowd. Even some of the correctional officers seem to have been affected by the spray. One protester was taken to the hospital due to the pepper pray: 74 year old Ellen Bar-Zemer, one of the 18 people arrested at the previous Never Again Providence action outside the Wyatt.
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Several people were incapacitated by the pepper spray, and the truck passed into the parking lot. The correctional officers formed a line across the entrance.
“The truck came barreling towards us, and was clearly trying to run us over,” said Jared Goldstein, one of the protesters who was sitting in the truck’s path when it struck, in a statement. “This was a group of peaceful protesters who were pepper sprayed and almost run over by correctional officers from the same facility we were here to protest.”
Soon officers from the Central Falls Police Department, who had been present before the truck attempted to run through the blocked entrance of the parking lot, returned to the scene. They and members of the Rhode Island State Police were not present during the attack by the Wyatt Correctional Officers.
People demanded the arrest of Captain Woodworth, the correctional officer they identified as the driver of the pickup truck, but no arrests were made, at least not immediately. Former State Representative Aaron Regunberg reported on Twitter that the police “actually refused to take witness statements.”
After that, injured people were cared for. Mostly, people hit with pepper spray needed to flush their eyes out with water, and as I reported, at least three people were hospitalized.
It was a terrible end to a peaceful protest.
In a statement, Regunberg asked a question that was on a lot of minds tonight: “If they’ll use this kind of violence on us, think about what the defenseless detainees inside are subjected to, every day.”
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