“It was the first prison to dabble in privatization and that is why closing it is such a of such great importance,” said Kinverly Dicupe. “By closing the Wyatt, we will signal to the rest of America that the era of making money through prisons is over.”
•In Central Falls, Rhode Island, 400 protesters blocked the only driveways allowing entry or exit to the Wyatt Detention Center for about two hours, demanding an end to the prison’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and ICE’s inhumane treatment of immigrants in Rhode Island. There are currently more than 100 ICE detainees at the Wyatt Detention Center.
•In Kansas City, Missouri, seven people were arrested in a protest outside of UMB Bank, which represents the bondholders of Wyatt Detention Facility. UMB is suing the city of Central Falls for $130,000,000 to keep the Wyatt’s contract with ICE in place. In anticipation of Tuesday’s protest, UMB closed their office.
•In San Diego, California six doctors and Jewish allies were arrested outside the United States Customs and Border Protection San Diego Headquarters after demonstrating in support of a group of physicians from Doctors for Camp Closures, Families Belong Together, and Jewish Action San Diego, who just yesterday were barred from providing flu vaccines to detainees in the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station.
The Never Again Action protest in Central Falls began at River Island Park on High Street where over two hundred people gathered to march in the rain to the Wyatt. (By the end of the protest over 400 people had joined.) This was the first time Never Again Action has returned to the Wyatt since august, when protesters were assaulted by Wyatt Correctional Officers.
Before the march began, there was a short speaking program:
“Every single day, Jews, immigrants, and allies are going after ICE because we have seen this before and we won’t let it happen again,” said Tal Frieden, a coordinator with Never Again Action Rhode Island. “ICE is everywhere in this country. What they are doing to immigrants at the border and in our communities here in Rhode Island and all over the country is nothing short of a mass atrocity. Undocumented people around the country live in constant fear. People are being detained indefinitely in inhumane conditions, then deported, separated from their families and communities. ICE has created a reign of terror in this country. The extent to which immigrants are terrorized is a direct result of the fact that ICE has been given the power to access people everywhere they go – in their schools, their workplaces, with their families, while they’re going about their daily lives. And ICE is still right here in Rhode Island at the Wyatt Detention Facility.
“ICE is here because the Wyatt’s board and UMB Bank based in Kansas City have decided to prioritize profit over human rights and dignity for all people. This is where the crisis at the border hits close to home.
“More than a hundred people are being detained by ICE here at the Wyatt detention facility, we stand with these people and with all the victims of ICE dehumanization. Private prisons like the Wyatt don’t reflect the values that our diverse community value here in Central Falls and in Rhode Island. As the legislative session begins, we will be fighting to hold our elected officials accountable to shutting down the Wyatt by all means necessary and banning all contracts with ICE here in Rhode Island. We will also be working with our immigrant neighbors to win driver’s licenses for all undocumented people in Rhode Island. Because when we say never again, we mean never again for anyone.”
“Progreso Latino stands in solidarity with our partners here today to denounce the criminalization of immigrants and asylum seekers at the Wyatt Detention Center,” said David Veliz. “Having human beings imprisoned for seeking the American Dream that many of us at one time searched for is mentally and emotionally harmful to the surrounding immigrant community. It’s too close to home.
“Imagine a young person who is playing sports in the field across from the Wyatt Detention Center, realizing that just across the street there is someone in prison for having the same immigration status as they do, as their parents once did. It’s shameful and it’s wrong. And although it’s legal, it shouldn’t be legal. But historically legal doesn’t mean right. An oppressive system will always find a way to oppress those that it thinks less than, less than human or other.
“I myself remember being undocumented, coming here, fleeing a war, living in fear, waiting for someone to come and get me. So I do the work that I do because I don’t believe that any child or any person should live in fear while they’re just seeking a better life. I want to thank Never Again. I want to thank the AMOR Network and everyone who came out today to stand with the immigrant community here in Central Falls and in Rhode Island and for standing up against the oppression.”
“Now it’s been a couple of months since we all marched together to the Wyatt the last time,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser. “Today, we’ve got a very strong message that we want to send about why we are here and part of our message is, we’re not going away.
“How are you going to find your light in the dark? This is the question that coming holiday of Hanukkah comes to answer. When the world has turned dark and cold, when you believe that you have no one and nothing to turn to, when all hope seems lost, where will you find your light? Hanukkah marks the end of a dark time for the Jewish people. They had been told by their oppressors that their history did not matter, that their stories did not matter, that their suffering did not matter, that their beliefs did not matter and ultimately that they did not matter.
“In the second century BCE, Jews lived under the Seleucid Empire, their ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes invaded Judea with his army and killed thousands without mercy. He desecrated the temple and outlawed Jewish practice. The Jews overcame Antiochus beat his army and rekindled the lights of the great menorah in the temple to rededicate it. Now, you may have heard that there was a miracle. According to the story, the Jews had only one container of oil that was supposed to light the menorah for just one day and would take eight days to get more oil. Yet that one container of oil lasted for eight days and that is why we celebrate Hanukkah for eight days.
“But I have a question for you. If the miracle of the oil was that the oil was supposed to burn for just one day and it lasted for eight days, why do we celebrate this holiday on the first day? You would think that the miracle only started on the second day. It was expected to burn on the first day. What was the miracle of the first day that we should celebrate that day too? You never thought about that before, did you?.
“Well, here’s the answer. The miracle was not that the oil burned for so long. The miracle was that the Jews lit the menorah in the first place, that they lit it all. Sure, there were people who said, ‘Oh, don’t bother. What are you trying to prove anyway? Don’t you know that you’re not going to achieve anything if you don’t have realistic goals?’
“They didn’t listen to any of that. They lit that tiny little container of oil anyway to bring light into their darkness. That was the miracle. It wasn’t a miracle of armies or battles. It wasn’t a miracle of swords or chariots. It wasn’t even a miracle of long lasting lamp oil. The miracle we celebrate was the miracle of spirit.
“Today our nation is at war with itself and with immigrants coming to this country to be free. Make no mistake about it. This is also a war of the spirit. We are living today in a society where people, again, are being told that their stories, their history and their suffering does not matter. We are living in a society where the government is telling people that their lives do not matter. As witnesses to the inhumanity of our nation’s war against immigrants. It is our obligation today to decry the way that the current administration’s policies are deeply, morally broken.
“We are calling for an end to the roundups and the detentions that treat human beings like animals. We are calling for an end to the way that families are separated and children are traumatized. We are calling on our leaders to uphold the command to be a source of light to those in need, not a source of suffering and darkness. As Jews, we have seen this darkness before and we have prevailed over it. We will do so again. We will not be stopped. We will not be stopped by those who say, ‘Oh, don’t bother.’ We will not be stopped by those who say, ‘What do you care about those people anyway?’ We will not be stopped by those who say, ‘Don’t you know that you’re not going to achieve anything if your goals aren’t realistic?’.
“Here is the reality that we do know and that we will not stop fighting for. We have a sacred obligation. We have an obligation to heaven and earth to fix what our leaders have so badly broken. We shall not remain silent against this darkness. This year, as we mark Hanukkah, our day of bringing light into the darkness, we will have the courage to Kindle the light of freedom and justice. We will have the courage to say that policies born out of fear and hatred must be shut down.
“Light up the darkness! Light up the darkness! Light up the darkness! Do it now!”
Tal Frieden returned to talk logistics.
After marching to the Wyatt, there were more speakers, ahead of the action to block the entrances to the Wyatt.
“We are here today to perform what has sadly become a radical act: To envision what could be here instead of what is. In a neighborhood where school kids learn and play here stands a barbed wire monstrosity that threatens death, and desensitizes children to state lead violence,” said Dr Aurit Lazerus, a coordinator with Never Again Action Rhode Island.
“This month Jews are preparing to celebrate Hanukkah, while many of us know Hanukkah as a Jewish holiday about presents, it’s actually about the re-dedication of sacred spaces. This land has been desecrated many times in the past and now, by the structure that stands behind me… It is a cruel waste of space.
“Space that could be turned into affordable housing, a community or cultural center, a tech store, a library, a hospital or a park,” continued Lazerus. “It could be beautiful. We want to make it easier for every Rhode Islander, for every American, to visualize what could, and what should be there in its place. So today we live our values. We have come to make this space sacred again.
“We will engage in acts of storytelling and dance. We will treat each other with dignity and gain from the diversity of our customs. We will learn words in each other’s languages, and we will tell our truths. We will honor those who came before us because, as we keep singing, we have our ancestors at our backs. We hold their wisdom and their struggles and their trauma and their love.
“Today we make visible those that remain invisible, and we will dance and celebrate with joy,” concluded Lazerus, “We will create a sliver of the world we all want to see. We invite you to imagine with us, and then, we start building together.”
“I was eight years old when I first moved to this country,” said Kinverly Dicupe. “We settled in the small City of Central Falls and this is where I had my first childhood American friends and also where I graduated from middle school. I actually graduated in that field there in front of the Wyatt. Now would you imagine my anger when I found out that I didn’t need to graduate in front of a prison if elected officials valued the lives of working people? This is a country that hosts 25 percent of the world’s prison population, despite only holding 4 percent of the world’s population – a country where 40 percent of the prisoners are nonviolent offenders.
“The act of generating profit from caging human beings is just another factor in a country where greed has run amuck and it has all of these facts which are represented by the Wyatt. It was the first prison to dabble in privatization and that is why closing it is such a of such great importance. By closing the Wyatt, we will signal to the rest of America that the era of making money through prisons is over.
“We cannot leave the justice system to the whims of the profit making machine and those who worship at the altar of money. We must work towards a new society where the needs of human beings are centered in criminal justice reform is a necessary part of that. Prisons should be rehabilitation centers, not torture zones. They should attempt to break the cycle of violence because the one thing that binds all prisoners together is their social class. The overwhelming majority of prisoners come from the working class. We must understand that crime is a consequence of a society that does not provide legal ways for everyone to live in dignity.
“So closing the Wyatt is the beginning of the work that has to be done to bring about a system that is humane and that means ending cash bail, decriminalizing sex work, ending the school to prison pipeline, ending sentencing minimums, and most importantly, moving to a different economic system where poverty is not a possible outcome. That is why this fight is worthwhile. And we will win this fight even when it is the hardest to win it. Change is coming, my friends.”
“As a coalition that includes and works with people who were previously incarcerated or are currently behind bars, AMOR wholeheartedly denounces all cages and all forms of incarceration,” said Catarina Lorenzo, executive director of AMOR (Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance). “We will continue to mobilize our communities until all people held hostage at the Wyatt are free, until all contracts with the Wyatt are cancelled, and until this detention center shuts down permanently.”
“It’s depressing that on a day where the Juvenile Hearing Board here at Central Falls is being honored for best practices at the Rhode Island Foundation right now, I’m standing in the rain, here, because of the irony that we still have the Wyatt Detention Facility here,” said Central Falls City Councilmember Jessica Vega.
“It’s a shame that right across the street we’re building the Macomber Field for our football team and they still have to look at the barbed wires. It’s a shame that we have alumni here that can recall graduating right across the street from a prison. This isn’t a game. We’re not here because we want to be here. We’re here because it’s the right thing to do. We’re here because we have to fight for what’s right. My message to you all is to continue to put pressure and hold people accountable for what’s happening right behind us. Continue to March, continue to not forget about what’s happening behind those walls. Continue to report, continue to share, because it’s working. Continue to put pressure.”
Dicupe, with an immigration story in both Spanish and English:
“I went to school right up the street from where we are right now. My family came to the States from Bolivia about 30 years ago. They’re here in Central Falls and they pay their taxes, they engage with the community, but recently they’ve stopped coming out of the house because they see on the news that ICE is bringing terror and being weaponized in vulnerable communities such as Central Falls” said Yanine Castedo, community organizer for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England and a member of the Immigrant Coalition of Rhode Island. “So they’re scared. And for me, this is an overwhelming feeling, that my family can’t enjoy their day to day lives because of this fear, because of the fear that the Wyatt has brought to Central Falls with its contract with ICE.
“And so, since August of this year, I’ve been working with the Immigrant Coalition to pass the Community Policing and Immigration Ordinance sponsored by City Councilwoman, Jessica Vega. The ordinance would help implement privacy safeguards for undocumented residents in Central Falls. This is to strengthen their security and their safety among the community. We understand that this was a huge need in the community because when we surveyed 150 constituents of Central Falls and we asked them, would you support a resolution to improve the safety and security of undocumented residents in Central Falls? – 95 percent of those folks said yes, they would support it. This is huge because this helped the Community Policing and Immigration Ordinance pass just last night and it’s a huge win for us.
“It’s amazing that we can get a step forward into a future of more immigrant inclusive policies, but there’s only so much we can do at the municipal level, as I learned this year. And this is why everyone here right now, if you want it, if you have the capacity, please help in 2020 to pass statewide legislation during the 2020 legislative session. It is so crucial for everyone to take part, to volunteer and to lobby because your reps need to hear from you, because they don’t really care too much about undocumented people. They don’t vote, so it’s not their main concern. But we have to make it a main concern.”
It was while the singing continued that a group of people moved to block the two entrances to the Wyatt with their bodies. The police did little to interfere with the actions of the protesters until bout eight minutes into the video below, where they forcibly moved the protesters closer together to keep the entrance open to vehicle traffic.
More protesters joined those at the entrance and sat down, linking arms, to make it harder for the police to move them.
Protesters and police blocked the entrance.
“We want the Wyatt and UMB Bank and ICE and Donald Trump to know that we are not going anywhere,” said Never Again Action organizer Aaron Regunberg. “As long as ICE is attacking immigrants in Rhode Island, we will be here to fight back. As long as families are being torn apart and our immigrant neighbors are being targeted, we will stand with them. We know what happens when a group of people is dehumanized. ‘Never again’ means never again for anybody.”
Roger Williams University Professor of Law Jared Goldstein spoke about the protest outside UMB Bank, where his mother was one of the protesters.
The protesters blocking the Wyatt eventually stood up:
Then the protesters turned to face the Wyatt and the police officers. They vowed to return to the Wyatt and to lobby elected leaders at the Rhode Island State House to outlaw ICE contracts and private prisons when the new session of he General Assembly starts in January 2020.
“We shut the Wyatt down tonight, and we can do it again,” Regunberg said. “As long as it takes, whatever it takes, to make sure leaders in the State House and in Washington get the message: ICE is in Rhode Island, but so are we. And we’ll be back.”
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