The Uprising! October 18, 2019

Governor Gina Raimondo agreed to sign legislation, should the General Assembly craft and pass it, banning for profit prisons in Rhode Island after Never Again Action, AMOR and other groups threatened to occupy the State House. Meanwhile, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello aide Jeff Britt was charged with money laundering in relation to Mattiello’s 2016 re-election campaign. Also, the Columbus statue in

Rhode Island News: The Uprising! October 18, 2019

October 18, 2019, 3:45 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

Governor Gina Raimondo agreed to sign legislation, should the General Assembly craft and pass it, banning for profit prisons in Rhode Island after Never Again Action, AMOR and other groups threatened to occupy the State House. Meanwhile, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello aide Jeff Britt was charged with money laundering in relation to Mattiello’s 2016 re-election campaign. Also, the Columbus statue in South Providence is spattered with paint, prompting media personalities and politicians to lose their minds.

Just another week at The Uprising!

1. Wyatt

On Thursday, after months of organizing and protests, culminating in a planned occupation of the Rhode Island State House, Governor Gina Raimondo agreed to support a ban on the operation of private prisons in the state. Raimondo also committed to dedicating staff to work with Never Again Action around the group’s call to end all state and local collaboration with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Protesters were originally planning to stay at the State House overnight, only leaving if their demands were met. Late in the afternoon Raimondo acquiesced, allowing Never Again Action organizer Aaron Regunberg to declare victory, though there’s is still plenty to be done. The legislation still needs to be written and passed by a General Assembly that has never shown a great deal of compassion for issues of immigrant justice.

So how does this relate to the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, and the ICE detainees kept there? The Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation board, which controls the Wyatt, is considering an agreement that would sell the Wyatt to a private corporate entity, effectively ending people’s ability to influence what happens there. Things could get dark there fast.

The protest at the State House was geared around the Jewish celebration of Sukkot, and a sukkah was constructed in the State House rotunda and food was shared with everyone. Happily, those planning to stay the night and risk arrest were able to go home.

The sukkah

2. Nicholas Mattiello

A Statewide Grand Jury returned an indictment charging Jeffrey Britt with one felony count of money laundering and one misdemeanor count of making a prohibited campaign contribution – specifically, making a campaign contribution but disguising it as a contribution from someone else.

The charges are in connection with Britt’s actions on behalf on Rhode Island Speaker Nicholas Mattiello‘s 2016 re-election campaign and were announced by Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha at a press conference.

Britt is facing twenty years for money laundering.

Speaker Mattiello maintains that financial irregularities in his campaign have nothing to do with him. Patti Doyle, spokesperson for the Mattiello Campaign, issued the following statement:

“These proceedings do not involve the Speaker. The Board of Elections resolved this issue for the campaign approximately one year ago.”

3. Providence Schools Takeover

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza met with representatives from various neighborhood groups on Tuesday to discuss the state takeover of the Providence Public School District (PPSD). The meeting was well timed, as earlier in the day Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green released her final Order of Control and Reconstitution and “Decision Establishing Control Over the of the Providence Public School District and Reconstituting Providence Public Schools.”

The order says that the state takeover of Providence schools will begin on November 1, and is expected to last about five years.

Elorza made several points during the meeting. First, after the Commissioner selects a new Providence Schools Superintendent, the first order of business will be to craft a takeover plan, and the public has been promised robust participation in this process.

Second, Elorza stressed that in his opinion, the takeover should last for more than five years, maybe as long at ten.

Third, Commissioner Infante-Green will have the power to expand and approve charter schools.

Finally, there is little democratic recourse. Who do we hold accountable if this state takeover of public schools is successful, or crashes and burns? Elorza didn’t have a good answer for that.

“When the superintendent comes on board, whoever that is, and whenever that is, that person’s first task is going to be to put together a Turnaround Plan,” explained Elorza. “That Turnaround Plan will have community input. We will demand and we will require that there is community input. And part of that turnaround plan will have certain metrics and it is my expectation it will spell out how it is that we’re going to be measuring the success or not of this process.

“So that will give us something to hold the superintendent, RIDE and the state accountable,” concluded Elorza. “But that is to be determined… that will be the first order of business with the Turnaround Plan.”

Jorge Elorza and Omar

4. Columbus

The Christopher Columbus statue in South Providence was vandalized with paint. This act of civil disobedience, done to call attention to the fact that Columbus Day celebrates a man who committed the crimes of murder, rape, mutilation, genocide and slavery maybe doesn’t deserve a day named in his honor.

When Providence City Councilor Katherine Kerwin (Ward 12) said she was okay with this act of politically motivated civil disobedience, WPRO’s Gene Valicenti lost his shit, paternalistically questioning Kerwin’s wisdom, and suggested it might be based in some kind of anti-Italian sentiment.

Providence City Councilor Nicholas Narducci (Democrat, Ward 4) sent a press release saying that vandalism is never okay, as did David Talan and William Ricci, Co-Chairs of the Providence Republican City Committee.

As I wrote here:

Here’s the thing that those so shocked about the vandalism of the Columbus statue haven’t realized: Everything illegal is not morally wrong, and everything morally wrong is not illegal. The law is not morality. Morality is not law.

All civil disobedience is technically crime. Dr Martin Luther King Jr spent time in jail, because he committed “crimes.” Helping escaped slaves was considered to be theft, and a crime. Burning the HMS Gaspee was a crime, as was the Boston Tea Party.

Arguably, all the “crimes” were in the service of a greater purpose, as was the vandalism of the Columbus statue. This is something Valicenti, Narducci, Talan and Ricci should know: Civil disobedience is a vital and important part of American history.

And it’s something Providence City Councilor Kerwin not only knows, but is brave enough to stand up for and defend.

5. Police as prosecutors

In most other courtrooms in the United States, a trained district or county prosecutor handles all arraignments; in Rhode Island, it’s left to the police.

Police officers in the state conduct nearly every arraignment in criminal cases. However, Rhode Island isn’t alone in giving police the authority to make charging decisions and prosecute arrests. 

UpriseRI was proud to co-publish, with The Appeal, a piece from reporters Julia Rock and Harry August on this upsetting process.

How does this pervert the pursuit of justice?

Stephen Erickson, who served as a Rhode Island District Court judge for 20 years, described one example he observed from the bench. In Warwick in the early 2000s, Erickson explained, “The police were laser-focused on prosecuting shoplifting, even minor offenses,” he said, seeking convictions in all cases––rather than community service or dropping the charges, as other police departments would. “It’s almost as if they were an arm of the Warwick Chamber of Commerce,” Erickson said.

6a. The Bartholomewtown Podcast

Steve Ahlquist? That’s me!

In this episode of The Bartholomewtown PodcastBill Bartholomew sits down with UpriseRI founder and multimedia journalist Steve Ahlquist for a conversation about pioneering efforts as an independent media outlet, his decision to operate with a defined and explicit progressive slant and key ingredients to move Rhode Island forward in a meaningful way.

6b. Bill Rappleye

In this episode of The Bartholomewtown PodcastBill Bartholomew sits down with veteran television political and news reporter Bill Rappleye for an in-depth discussion about Rap’s backstory in journalism, embracing new technology and other industry shifts, working for a variety of large parent companies and living in Rhode Island.


8. Convergence RI

9. Rhode Island Political Cooperative

From The Public’s Radio: Jennifer Rourke, a co-chair of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, a new progressive group, joins Political Roundtable to discuss the co-op, her run for state Senate, and whether Americans will support a progressive candidate for president.

10. Pictures of the Week:

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