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Silence is Violence: A youth led protest for Black lives in Woonsocket



I felt like it should have been me. He died so that we could all breathe. He died in eight minutes and 46 seconds so we could have the rest of our lives to breathe. We all breathe because he’s letting us. He’s guiding us to a better future…

About one hundred people marched from Market Square to the City Hall, then to the Police Department, before heading back to Market Square on Friday in Woonsocket. At each stop of this youth led march and protest, young people (and some older folk too) spoke out against police violence against Black lives across the United States, but with a special focus on Woonsocket.

Outside Woonsocket City Hall:

Instead of being home and enjoying her summer, “I’m here listing a hundred reasons why we live in a broken system,” said Zainabou Thiam. Thiam then read a series of quotes from Black and Brown students from around Rhode Island and Woonsocket. Students spoke about the pervasive, systemic and interpersonal racism and violence they endure every day.

“As students, we are hurting,” said Thiam. “We are in great danger. We are hurting. We are screaming and you can’t hear us.”

Thiam then listed three demands:

  • Defund the police, relocate their funds to human services
  • Have more diversity in higher paying jobs. “We want to see some Black teachers, Black officers, Black doctors, Black psychologists..”
  • Legislation similar to that being introduced in New York that would characterize racially motivated police reports as hate crimes.

“I think it’s a shame that the children here have to grow up in a society where they feel that they can’t grow without being called a thug and being accuse of having drugs or doing drugs because they feels that’s they only choice they have…

“I felt like it should have been me. He died so that we could all breathe. He died in eight minutes and 46 seconds so we could have the rest of our lives to breathe. We all breathe because he’s letting us. He’s guiding us to a better future…”

“I’m a descendant of slaves,” said Rosalind Mitchell. “I’m only the third generation away from slavery in my family. And I want to say that every time I see a Black man or a Black woman killed on television, it’s like re-traumatizing me. We’re in pain. I’m a mother of a son, one son, and I have five grandsons and there is no way I want to see them die in that way. It is traumatic for Black mothers.”

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“People tell us to go back where we came from, but you know what? Your ancestors brought us here through slavery, so we were born here, just like you were. We have the right to do things that you are doing.”

Chase, a trans male, spoke about the Stonewall uprising and the role of Stormé DeLarverie and Marsha P Johnson two strong Black women who fought for LGBTQ rights when such things were decades away.

“These women, I take pride in. They fought for what we have today.”

“I felt ashamed to be a homeless person and to be myself when I was in school,” said Alice, a transgender woman. “We have so many bright and beautiful young people here and they’re scared and they’re hurting…”

“157 years ago we were supposed to be free. I’m 16 years old. I should not be fighting for something that happened 157 years ago. I was ten years old and I was not served food with my mother and her sister just because of the color of our skin. They completely ignored us when we went inside. This should not be happening…”

“Most of my life I’ve been harassed by the police. Harassed, not even treated as a human being. Ever since I remember, since I was nine years old, I’ve been stopped in my own neighborhood, asked if I belong here. I have been followed by the police, ever since I was nine, on a little bike. What type of stupidity was that?”

“I’m mixed and I’m lighter so I have it quite a bit easier than some of these darker skinned girls. So I like to use the minor amount of privilege I’ve got to help y’all out, to help myself out, to help everyone out…

“We need to stop calling it police brutality. It’s just murder.”

“I’m a victim of police brutality. We’re being discriminated against and it starts with getting arrested, whether we did anything or not…”

“It is not the Black community’s responsibility to educate you on what the system has been since the start of slavery. It is incumbent upon all of us to include everyone in the discussion – in the truth – that it was slavery, then it was redlining, then it was Jim Crow, and segregation, and then there was mass incarceration up until today…”

“Our country has changed a lot in the last two weeks,” said Woonsocket City Councilmember Alex Kithes. “The work being done by the Black Lives Matter movement, the political pressure generated by worldwide protests, has already led to some remarkable changes in cities around our country as elected leaders are being held accountable by their communities. I am committed to working alongside you to undo centuries of racism embedded in our government and reforming and rethinking our systems of criminal justice, policing and public safety right here in our own city.”

State Senator Melissa Murray (Democrat, District 24, North Smithfield, Woonsocket):

Another event is announced for next Saturday, details to come:

“Where is Lisa Baldelli-Hunt?”

The protest then moved to the Woonsocket Police Department:

About the Author

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.