Civil Rights

Never Again Providence calls for the closing of the Wyatt Detention Center in the wake of violence at peaceful protest

“I didn’t notice the black pickup truck until the headlights were suddenly feet away from us,” said 15-year old Ruby Goldstein. “I honestly feel like if I hadn’t jumped out of the way, I would have been hit,” said her brother, Sam Goldstein, 17-years old. Never Again Providence held a press conference Tuesday morning in the aftermath of a protest
Photo for Never Again Providence calls for the closing of the Wyatt Detention Center in the wake of violence at peaceful protest

Published on August 20, 2019
By Steve Ahlquist

“I didn’t notice the black pickup truck until the headlights were suddenly feet away from us,” said 15-year old Ruby Goldstein.

“I honestly feel like if I hadn’t jumped out of the way, I would have been hit,” said her brother, Sam Goldstein, 17-years old.

Never Again Providence held a press conference Tuesday morning in the aftermath of a protest held at the Wyatt Detention Center that ended in violence as Wyatt Correctional Officers violently assaulted peaceful protesters. During the press conference, speakers called for “the immediate release of all people being held in ICE detention at the Wyatt, the closing of the Wyatt entirely, and a ban on private prisons in Rhode Island.”

Never Again Providence was joined by a broad coalition of community organizations, including AMOR (Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance), Fuerza Laboral, the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Board of Rabbis, Reconstructing Judaism, T’ruah (The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights), the Rhode Island Committee for Muslim Advancement, the Rhode Island Council of Churches, Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), and others, along with state representatives and senators, to issue the following statement:

“Last Wednesday, the ugly violence of United States immigration policy burst into the open. Wyatt guards attacked peaceful protesters with a truck and with pepper spray, in public and in front of cameras; just think what kind of violence they feel empowered to inflict on the vulnerable immigrants and asylum-seekers in their care, behind the walls of the prison. It’s clear that such a cruel and inhumane system cannot be allowed to continue to operate: not in this country, and not in this state.

“In this moment of urgency, we stand together to make the following demands:

  • State leaders must shut down the Wyatt, now, and call for the release of all ICE detainees held there.
  • The General Assembly must pass legislation banning the operation of private, for-profit prisons in Rhode Island, to ensure that the Wyatt never reopens in its current form again.
  • Through legislation or executive order, Rhode Island must ban collaboration and cooperation with ICE in any form, at the state and local level.

“We also urge state and local leaders to commit to Movimiento Cosecha’s Dignity Plan: an end to all detention and deportation, immediate legalization for all 11 million undocumented immigrants, and family reunification for everyone separated by detention and deportation.

“‘Never Again’ means standing up wherever we see state-sponsored dehumanization and violence. The ancient rabbis taught, ‘It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to abstain from it.’ The fight to abolish ICE, close the camps, end family separation, and win justice for immigrants is larger than Rhode Island, but that does not absolve us of the responsibility to secure justice here in our own state. ‘Never Again’ means this fight isn’t over until it’s won. ‘Never Again’ is now.'”

The press conference was emceed by Sy Gitin, one of the organizers with Never Again Providence.

“I join you today to share the joint statement from Touro Rabbis in Rhode Island and members of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island,” said Rabbi Sarah Mack, president of the Board. “Our Torah teaches when strangers reside with you in your land you shall not wrong them. The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as your citizens. You should love the stranger as yourself, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt.

“As rabbis we believe that we must aspire to apply this ethos to immigration policy in this country. We also believe that the right to peacefully protest in this country must be vigilantly guarded. The Jewish community came to the Donald W Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls to demonstrate our opposition to the detention and mistreatment of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. We refuse to be silent and therefore complicit in the face of human rights abuses and grave threats to civil rights in this country.

“This violence was perpetrated just a few days after Tisha B’Av, a sacred day commemorating and mourning and fasting commemorating the Jewish exile and oppression and forced migration through the ages on which T’ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights organized more than 50 similar protests at ICE facilities around the country. We denounce and call for an investigation into the actions of the employees of this for-profit facility. We are here today to stand by our allies and endorse their demands. We will remain steady in our commitment to nonviolent action even in the face of such callous disregard for the lives and safety of our friends, our neighbors, our congregants and our students, as those who were present last week sang many times Olam Chesed Yibaneh, we will build this world from love.”

Sam Goldstein, 17 years old, and Ruby Goldstein, 15 years old, wee in the path of the truck driven by correctional officer Thomas Woodworth and later, pepper sprayed by other Wyatt correctional officers.

Ruby and Sam Goldstein

“We went to this demonstration of the Wyatt with the rest of our family, but we each made the decision to go ourselves,” said Sam. “I chose to go because I see the parallel between what’s happening now, and the Holocaust, and I feel that I can’t be complicit while terrible things happen to immigrants in my country.

“‘Families are torn apart; men, women, and children are separated. Children come home from school to find that their parents have disappeared. Women return from shopping to find their houses sealed, their families gone.’

“This was written by Anne Frank about the Holocaust, but it feels very applicable to what’s happening today in the United States.”

“I chose to go because as a Jew who had family die in the Holocaust, I felt a moral responsibility to be there,” said Ruby. “I was there because ‘Never Again’ means means we never let anything even remotely similar to the Holocaust happen. Our parents were arrested at the last Never Again Action, and they were there because AMOR has been protesting at the Wyatt for months.

“At the protest, people were happy to be there, engaging in civil disobedience, singing songs, and chanting.”

“We were sitting on the ground, blocking the driveway to the staff parking lot,” continued Sam. “We were next to each other with dad and a friend and her mom with us. Our mom worked as a marshal, keeping people out of the street and directing traffic.

“I didn’t notice the black pickup truck until the headlights were suddenly feet away from us,” said Ruby.

“I honestly feel like if I hadn’t jumped out of the way, I would have been hit,” said Sam.

“I jumped up and backwards as it swerved into our line of peaceful protesters,” said Ruby.

“At first my reaction was to think that the driver hadn’t seen us,” said Sam. “Then, as he plunged forward again, I knew this wasn’t an accident. He deliberately drove a truck into a crowd of people.”

“I turned round and covered my ears, fearing there was a person beneath the vehicle, not wanting to hear their screams,” said Ruby. “We rushed to stop the truck from advancing any further by standing in front of it.”

“We had no time to process what had just happened before other officers came towards us, aggressively pushing us out of the way,” said Sam. “These officers seemed to be angry at us before they got there. I was worried that this confrontation was going to end with someone seriously hurt.”

“They weren’t there to save us or punish this man for driving into us,” noted Ruby. “They were there to help him get his truck into the employee parking lot.”

“They kept pushing pushing us back forcefully, then, without warning, the pepper spray,” said Sam.

“I dropped to the ground, covering my face, before I ran from the uniformed men,” said Ruby. “I was terrified.”

“I ran away and saw the friend I’d come with,” said Sam. “We hugged, both relieved to be mostly unharmed. The officers yelled at us to move, even though we weren’t blocking the truck anymore and were posing no threat.

“The man who was standing next to me when the pepper sprayed us caught the blast,” said Ruby. “I was very lucky only part of my face was sprayed.”

“But, what happened at the Wyatt, this action, this movement, it isn’t about us,” said Sam. “This unnecessary use of force is typical of a system that gives power to people who respond to the smallest confrontation with violence. We know this is how the system works from listening to communities of color, who have been talking about this for years.

“If this is what they do outside the facility, to peaceful protesters imagine what goes on inside?” asked Sam.

“If this is what they do when the world is watching,” said Ruby, “Imagine what happens when no one is there to see it?”

Arely Diaz, from, AMOR (Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance, spoke to the crowd.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza spoke, said that “we cannot, in good conscience, approve of [the Wyatt’s] continued operation.”

Heiny Maldonado of Fuerza Laboral:

Daniel Chhum is the coordinator of the Community Defense Project at PrYSM (Providence Youth Student Movement):

Adam Greenman, president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island:

Rhode Island State Representative Rebecca Kislak (Democrat, District 4, Providence):

Former State Representative Aaron Regunburg, an organizer with Never Again Providence, talked about the feasibility of shutting down the Wyatt.

“We at Never Again believe that it is possible for the state to take action to end the violence that’s happening right out our back door,” said Regunberg. ” The Wyatt Detention Center is a creature of state statute that exists as a legal entity through state law, and we believe that means it is possible, through legislation, to shut it down, to end this contract with ICE and this complicity in Donald Trump’s deportation machine,” said Regunberg.

“That’s the call that we are putting out today. We are grateful for the state leaders who are here today, the folks that couldn’t be here but have offered support and we are looking forward to continuing to push for these demands to make sure that our state takes action because until it does, the state of Rhode Island is complicit in continuing this violence.

“…This is an issue for the legislature, but it’s an issue for every moral leader in the state and we’re calling on every statewide leader… to join this call to take action to make sure that the violence that was inflicted on some people here last week and that we know is being inflicted day in and day out on the folks in the Wyatt and people in our community is put to an end.”

Not only does Never Again Providence want the Rhode Island General Assembly to shut down the Wyatt, they also want the state “to pass legislation that they have passed in New York, in Illinois, in states across the country, to ban the operation of private prisons in Rhode Island,” said Regunberg. “It’s something that is being done across the country, it’s time for our state leaders to step up and do the same.”

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