“We wanted to make sure that our Black kids here know that their lives matter, that we weren’t going to be silent in the face of a public lynching, and that we were going to stand up for their rights today.“
Over 100 people peacefully marched from Market Square to the Woonsocket City Hall, then onto the Woonsocket Police Department headquarters in protest of “police brutality and state sanctioned violence against Black communities.” At the station protesters were met by Woonsocket Police Chief Thomas F Oates III, and took a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer held his knee on the neck of George Floyd, ultimately killing him and sparking the latest wave of national protests.
The march was organized by the WATCH Coalition (Woonsocket Alliance to Champion Hope), and organizers were mindful of the 8pm curfew the City imposed.
UpriseRI spoke to WATCH Coalition organizers Nwando Ofokansi and Rosalind Mitchell minutes before the march.
UpriseRI: So why are we here?
Nwando Ofokansi: We are here on behalf of the WATCH Coalition who organized this rally to commemorate the lives of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. We recognize that police brutality and state sanctioned violence against Black communities is a common experience across every state in the country and it is an issue here, in Woonsocket. We wanted to make sure that our Black kids here know that their lives matter, that we weren’t going to be silent in the face of a public lynching, and that we were going to stand up for their rights today.
UpriseRI: Do you feel as a Black person in this community that you are over policed?
Ofokansi: We do feel over policed. I feel that our young people of color are often criminalized and situations are handled with a criminal response, rather than a community response. I think we can do a lot better making sure that our young people are out of the system and being provided with whatever resources they need, rather than being punished for the conditions they grew up in.
Rosalind Mitchell: I was brought up in this community. I have five grandsons and two of them have been harassed, just for walking home.
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I got pulled over by the North Smithfield Police one time, saying that my light was out under my license plate. All the other lights were working. When we pulled up to the stoplight, he saw that I was a Black woman in the car, and as soon as I pulled down the road a little bit he pulled me over. He pulled me over for driving while Black. It happens all the time.
UpriseRI: Do you see different outcomes for Black and white youth who have interactions with the police?
Mitchell: I found that my grandchildren started to be incarcerated in middle school, by being put in detention because teachers felt they were too high elevated. Instead of just asking them what’s up, I have to go to school all the time because they’re in detention. They gave them detention for everything.
Some things don’t call for detention. They do treat [Black and white youth] differently. Even now my grandson feels low self-esteem because of those kinds of interactions.
Below is all the video from the march, as well as pictures.
The march began in Market Square:
In a small park next to Woonsocket City Hall, Ofokansi spoke about the City Council’s vote to acknowledge every June as Pride month. While congratulating the City Council for their action, Ofokansi did call out City Councilmember James Cournoyer for some of his comments.
“It was expressed by Councilman Cournoyer that, ‘There’s no evidence that I’m aware of that our city engages in bias, prejudices and homophobia.’ He went on to say that if he ‘was in this so-called community, I’d be insulted to say that I’ve been marginalized, and have to be protected and coddled, and all that other nonsense,'” said Ofokansi. “While I think it’s clever of him to frame his thoughts on oppression with language that appears to empower the LGBTQ+ community, the reality is that he is denying the very real lived experiences of all people who are part of oppressed communities and all forms of oppression. The erasure of homophobia, transphobia, racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, classism and so on, is a form of gaslighting. We are being told that our experiences are not real, that there are no systemic factors contributing to the disparities we face, that our issues are exclusively on us as individuals.
“Not only is this ideology untrue, but it is dangerous for people like us.”
Ofokansi also noted that the history of Pride began when trans women of color fought back against police harassment and violence, sparking the Stonewall Uprising. She further noted the recent police killing of Tony McDade, a Black tans man.
“People of color, who are also LGBTQ+, face heightened levels of violence because of their intersecting oppressed identities,” said Ofokansi.
The march then continued to the Woonsocket Police Department.
Woonsocket Police Chief Thomas F Oates III addresses the crowd:
More interactions with Chief Oates.
The crowd observes a moment of silence:
The crowd then headed back to Market Square for some last thoughts and notes on potential future actions: