“...it’s time to create a cohesive and unified body to root out those who are proven to be unfit to wear a badge…“
Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence) was be joined by dozens of elected officials at a press conference on the south steps of the Rhode Island State House as she announced legislative initiatives to combat systematic racism in Rhode Island in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
Among those attending were Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi, House Minority Leader Blake Filippi and Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee.
“The killing of George Floyd was a wake-up call to many about the systematic racism that permeates our society, but these injustices of been long known to Rhode Island’s community of color,” said Representative Williams. “The persecution, harassment, and violence against the community of color must end and if our leaders are truly committed to ending these continuous injustices, the areas that we will discuss at the press conference must be changed immediately and permanently.”
Representative Williams spoke for about forty minutes, covering the following ideas:
- The lack of diversity reflective of our state in the Rhode Island judicial system and the lack of judges of color on the bench.
- The lack of diversity within our state’s public safety system and the lack of promotions for people of color serving in our police and fire departments.
- The lack of people of color from the urban core working in Rhode Island’s suburban communities and governments.
- Changing the make-up of boards and commissions, especially paid board positions, to properly and accurately reflect the diverse population of Rhode Island.
- The stopping of outsourcing our taxpayer dollars to out of state individuals for government positions when there is a wealth of in-state talent within the community of color.
- A raising of the 10 percent quota for minority businesses applying for state contracts to 25 percent.
- Greater minority representation in the bidding of state contracts.
- Changing the state contract bidding process that is particularly onerous for minority owned businesses and removing the barriers that are currently in place.
- Changing the state’s civil service exam that discriminates against people of color when applying for state jobs.
- Licenses for undocumented residents.
- Increased funding for school and after-school programs.
- The creation of a state and local police community reform task force.
- Increased emphasis on youth employment, particularly within Rhode Island’s urban core.
- Instituting the use of body cameras for all Rhode Island police departments.
- Sweeping reforms to current police conduct polices, including a three-strike system to officers with numerous verified conduct complaints against them.
- Increased minority access to healthcare and financial institutions and the services they provide.
- The creation of a true living wage for the hard-working members of the community of color.
“No more backward thinking,” said Representative Williams, “Our youth are demonstrating their anger. We have not heard all of what they have been saying. For years, we have postured ourselves to make believe that we are listening, giving them the attention, but we have failed to hear what they have to say.”
Speaking on the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBoR), Representative Williams was clear: It needs serious reform.
“There is a list of things that we all need to get together and address. Law enforcement, on all levels and all municipalities in the state of Rhode Island – it’s time to create a cohesive and unified body to root out those who are proven to be unfit to wear a badge,” said Representative Williams. “For far too long, these bad actors, these jump out boys, have been sheltered, have been protected, have been encouraged, have been condoned and even promoted. And it has to stop. Because not every law enforcement officer is a bad cop, but by just that handful of bad ones, it makes all the good ones look the same. So I thank all of the officers who came up, stood up and made it known that they’re not part of this madness, but their hands are tied. They have to be concerned about retribution from their own. We need to be the ones to protect them. The policeman’s bill of rights needs a great overhaul.
“I understand it may be a struggle, a fight with the union,” continued Representative Williams. “I am a union member and a union supporter, but the time has come to right all the wrongs that we have had to endure. So that is one area that we need to address immediately. Or we are going to see another nine minutes of someone else’s life being taken away. Some other person handcuffed, being beaten to a pulp, some other home being invaded without the proper credentials, some other person being murdered in their home while they’re sleeping. And these individuals, without the proper training, are getting away with it. Absolutely no more. I say no more. Everybody needs to be made accountable. It’s time.”
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Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston), characterized the police murder of George Floyd a “criminal act” that has to be “universally condemned.”
“We’re here today… because we do have racial and social unrest in the United States of America,” said Mattiello. “From our founding we’ve had some stains on our jacket relative to racial cruelty, intolerance, prejudice – I don’t even know, I don’t have the right horrific words to explain it – I’ve been reading a lot about it and I want to thank Representative Williams – She’s constantly trying to educate me.”
Under questioning from the press, Speaker Mattiello demurred on the necessity of reforming the police. The Public’s Radio‘s Ian Donnis asked the Speaker if he would commit to reforming the LEOBOR.
Ian Donnis: Speaker will you commit to passing the overhaul of the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights described as needed by representative Williams?
Speaker Mattiello: Oh, that’s you that’s, that’s a broad, that’s a very broad questions. I will commit to looking at it and studying it and utilizing our committee process and listening to everybody involved.
UpriseRI: Many of the items that Representative Williams brought up today have been in committee for the last five years, at least ,and they’ve gone nowhere and have actively been opposed by the Speakership and many of the people present here.
Speaker Mattiello: I’m not sure you’re accurate…
UpriseRI: On the Driver’s licenses for undocumented, for instance. I mean, you ran [for re-election] on opposing that in one of your mailers.
Speaker Mattiello: Those are complex issues and I am happy to continue to look at those issues, but they’re complex. And that goes well beyond race and racial issues there. There’s a lot of economic components to that particular issue, but I commit to always looking anew at every single issue that comes before us. And they were always in a different light. And all issues are important and all issues get looked at, and we have 75 members in the house, 38 in the Senate, and we’ll see where all of the issues go. But you know, those, those are individual issues. I think we have to take a very broad look at race and history relative to race and equality and equity and find a way that every child that’s born has the same opportunity, a fair shot in life and you know that we just look at each other as the same.
Amanda Toussant: How exactly are you going to find a way?
Speaker Mattiello: I don’t…
Young Woman: You don’t know anything, sir.
Speaker Mattiello: I actually agree with that.
Young woman: I’m afraid.
Speaker Mattiello: I respect that. And that actually concerns me and bothers me. So you are correct. We all have different viewpoints. So when you take all of our viewpoints together, hopefully we find the proper balance…
Young woman: Or a proper person to represent us…
Williams spoke at length about the necessity of driver’s licenses for undocumented Rhode Islanders:
“Driver’s license for undocumented, Our brothers and sisters, Our brothers and sisters, Our brothers, and sisters,” said Representative Williams. “In many instances of businesses in our cities and town. It’s our brothers and sisters that are in that kitchen, they’re in that detail shot of your car dealership, they’re in your office building, cleaning it up they’re in the nursing home, wiping your parents behind, they’re in the hospital asking for mercy. But let me tell you, we cannot and will not give them driver’s license? They are contributors to our state, to our economy. They pay their taxes. They are our brothers and sisters. They had the privilege, the opportunity, the honor of having driver’s licenses until we had a Republican governor strip it away. It was not creating a problem at all. For anyone. It was bringing more resources into our economy.
“The Republican governor, who stripped that opportunity away from our brothers and sisters created a problem of unsafety-ness for all of us, because he forced our brothers and sisters to get in their vehicles and drive to the places of businesses ofwhich many of you are owners of to make a living. How fair is that?,” continued Representative Williams. “It wasn’t a problem by giving them that license that they are deserving of. Our roads will be safer. Insurance companies will insure them. They’ll continue to be able to put more into the economy. Many of them are working two and three jobs and taking three or four buses. Now six and seven buses, seeing that there’s a limit of how many can be on the bus. How are they to survive? We need to join forces and call upon our leaders and provide our brothers and sisters, that license to be able to properly function like you or me on a daily basis.
Amanda Toussant, a member of the public, spoke to the crowd:
The last speaker was Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett).