Never Again Providence protest outside Wyatt ends in violence as correctional officers attack protesters

Correctional Officers line-up after attacking peaceful protesters
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“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.

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.”

The protesters, minutes before the truck arrived

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About Steve Ahlquist 1058 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade.Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.atomicsteve@gmail.com

8 Comments

  1. I had a housemate who was a prison guard for 12 years (another state) and he was a nice guy but had some twisted thing going on inside. He started setting up booby traps in the house so when I came home late at night I would get tripped up. Spraying chemical aerosols under the crack in my bedroom door was the last straw. He was warned to stop and I told him I was not able to live in a rough environment and his lease was up but he wouldn’t leave so I got a restraining order and a judge told him to leave. The police were not supportive of me because he was a friend of theirs. I think they might need a constant support system where they receive ongoing training to live in our changing world.

  2. Unbelievable, yet, I had a premonition that something bad was going to happen, so I decided not to attend the protest. This is unacceptable and criminal behavior. We are guaranteed the right to peacefully protest. This MUST BE PUNISHED!

  3. This is awful. To attempt to run down and injure peaceful protesters with a vehicle that weighs 1.5 tons is the impatient, and cowardly act of a person with little or no humanity. I don’t understand that kind of behavior, nor do I condone it. As far as the immigrants inside. I have not been inside, only by tele-video as a court interpreter processing asylum claims and removal proceedings for Hispanic immigrants from Mexico, Central America (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador) or Cuba. Out of over 100 cases or so I have been a party to in 3-4 months, I have not heard a single respondent complain of the conditions inside Wyatt. To the contrary the Immigration judiciary, DHS and private attorneys, especially the immigration judges, as well as the facility’s security forces ALL treat the immigrants with due process, kindness, respect, courtesy and compassion, screening them with the appropriate questions to see who has a credible fear of returning to their country of origin. That is what I have seen and experienced. Many respondents have bond set in their cases the very same day of their initial immigration hearing and are soon able to be released from custody to go live with family or close friends in different parts of the country while they prepare their asylum claims. This is my direct experience. I by no means am condoning the child family separations, and cruel and inhumane treatment we are seeing in border detention centers in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. That is full on neo-Nazi cruelty and the product of a mean spirited, deliberately harmful immigration policy, that goes against the Geneva convention and the international treaty against torture, at its worst. I don’t see or hear that this is happening at Wyatt. I am just saying that there are different flavors to the immigration process in different parts of the country. Be mindful that many cities in New England are “sanctuary cities” and that the immigration judiciary in New England reflects that and treats ALL immigrants, Hispanic or otherwise, with equal due process, kindness and civility.

  4. They won’t do that Sean. If they went undercover into prisons they would realize that the abuses are so bad most all of the prisons would have to be shut down. That’s never going to happen.

  5. These clowns are worse than any cop! They are rejects that can’t handle being police officers so they become the cowards that regularly assault prisoners and take pride in violating human rights. What needs to be done is an undercover operation within prison walls to really appreciate the crimes that the cowards commit regularly.

    • as if that would change anything.

      Society glorifies the human rights abuse that goes on inside prison, because they see “criminals” as subhuman (and considering how the “justice” system treats people of color, i wonder why…)

    • Yes cowards that guy driving that truck should be arrested for attempted murder us people need to take care of these Rogues

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