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Thousands take to the streets of Providence in youth led Protect Black Lives protest



We need to change the Police Bill of Rights! We need to change the Police Bill of Rights because it is oppressive to people all over the nation. I am a tax paying citizen. My question is: Why aren’t you protecting me?

On Friday at least 10,000 people marched from Central High School and Kennedy Plaza to the Rhode Island State House in a youth led march staged in response to police and state violence against Black lives. It may have been the largest social justice march in Rhode Island history, and was easily the largest such event in recent Rhode Island history.

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The protest was met with extreme policing. National Guard soldiers, armed with automatic weapons, fortified the Providence Place Mall and other locations downtown. Shopkeepers boarded up windows. Helicopters surveilled the crowd from overhead, barricades were erected, emergency text messages were sent to phones. When the protesters arrived at the State House, they were denied access to all but the lowest level of the stairs.

It was ironic, I suppose, that a peaceful rally to protest the over policing of Black bodies was met with over policing.

This was a youth led protest, and the youth who organized it, under the group name Step Up RI, had a speaking program. As much video as I could capture is below.

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Kennedy Plaza:

The march to the State House:

Arriving at the State House:

“In the summer of 2017 I spoke at the March for Racial Justice at India Point Park,” said Yojaida Heredia. “I listed names. Names of our Black brothers and sisters who have fallen victim to being killed for their skin color, for existing, for being here. That list hasn’t even scratched the surface of people who have died at the hands of white supremacy, racism and the police.”

“Every time we hear a police siren, we’re afraid.”

“Give us back what’s ours. Give us what we deserve. Give us our lives! Say it with me: Black Lives Matter!”

“We need to change the Police Bill of Rights! We need to change the Police Bill of Rights because it is oppressive to people all over the nation. I am a tax paying citizen. My question is: Why aren’t you protecting me?”

“Our Governor, Gina Raimondo is not here. She addressed the people, but she is not here. She put a curfew in place, but she is not here. She met with Black Lives Matter Rhode Island today, but she is not here. She went on TV to say that here priority is the Latino community to create division between us. The priority should be all of us!”

“Each and every one of you matters. Do not think for one second you do not matter, because you do.”

“I am 25 years old,” said Justice Gaines. “I am Black, I am trans, and I am a woman, and I am tired of this shit. I have a message for the elders. Because I was taught to respect my elders. Older Black folk: I need you to fight for my fucking life!

“And I don’t need no reforms. Th time for reform is over. We have tried reforming the police. It is time we take their funding and put it towards housing. It is time we take their funding and put it towards education. It is time we take their funding and put it towards health care!”

Yojaida Heredia repeated her speech on a better sound system.

The crowd is led in a classic piece of poetry from Assata Shakur:

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

The crowd is led in another chant:

“Today is my birthday. I should not be here today. I should be at home with my family celebrating.” It’s also the birthday of Breanna Taylor. “She would have been 27 years old today. She should be doing what she loved: Fighting for the safety of others as an EMT. She should be at home with her family, celebrating today. Instead, she was systematically assassinated by those who swore to protect.”

“All these cops. Look at them. They can’t do nothing for us. Not nothing. At the end of the day we have to protect our own selves.”

“I do not hate the police. I hate racism. [Police officers] are put in a racist system. The system was made to be against us. I can’t swear. I’m too young. I’m sorry. Fuck the Police!”

“Every time I go on social media, all I see is about people rioting and how that’s wrong. Us colored people built this city. We can tear it the fuck down when we want to!”

Another speaker: “We’re not promoting violence, just to be clear.”

“When we say to keep the peace, we will keep te peace, but we also need the state to keep the peace.”

“We can protest all we want, but it’s what comes after this. This was built on money. So if we want to hit them where it hurts, start with money. Economically. I want you all to invest in Black businesses! … I want action!. I want to see a Black Wall Street again!”

“I want you to know that this was a youth led protest… It doesn’t end here… We’ve got to defund the police. Thank you, and let this not be the end.”

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.