“We are really pushing for a community review board – every other city’s doing it, why shouldn’t we? Pawtucket has one of the worst police departments in the state… So you would think they’d want that kind of transparency. I want that for them.“
About 100 people stood outside the Pawtucket City Hall and the Pawtucket Police Department at noon on Sunday afternoon to “support of families let down by inadequate police investigations.” Organizers say that the Pawtucket Police Department is not following proper procedures, is plagued by corruption and cover ups, and not bringing justice to grieving families who have lost loved ones.
Three cases in particular were highlighted at the event.
- Dominique Silva was shot and killed by a Pawtucket Police Officer four years ago. It was only through the efforts of Lynn Farinelli from the Rhode Island Accountability Project that Silva’s family were able to read a heavily redacted version of the police report, four years later.
- Joseph Farinelli‘s mother, Lynn, has been working six years to get an investigation into her son’s death. Instead of answers, she has faced harassment and bullying.
- Alex Pina was killed last month in a collision between his motorcycle and an automobile. At the rally it was said that while a toxicology report was done on Pina, the women driving the automobile were not tested. Questions abound about this incident, and the family is struggling to get answers.
UpriseRI spoke to community activist Khrystyne Bento, one of the organizers of the event.
“We’re just trying to be here and be a voice for the families in mourning,” said Bento. “On top of losing a loved one, they’re being punished extra by a process that obviously isn’t working for anyone… We’re not standing here against the police. We’re standing here against the process, the investigations being not done correctly, in our opinion.
“So it’s not about saying ‘The police are bad,'” said Bento. “This is a little bit different. We’re standing for justice. I’ve been working with a group that’s been working with the police, so we can bring the community together. This isn’t a protest. The families are still in mourning and we’re trying to get them some answers.”
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UpriseRI asked about the responses of Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien and Pawtucket Police Chief Tina Goncalves when these families ask for information about the deaths of their loved ones.
“The problem is that with this city, the Mayor and the Chief are kind of not easily accessible,” said Bento, with the caveat that she is part of a group of Pawtucket residents that have been meeting with the Chief for about two months to “try to fix the relationship between the community and the police.”
“We’re slowly making progress,” said Bento, “but the problem is that when things like [the death of Alex Pina] happen, they want to silence the community, including community leaders… All we’re asking for in the death of Alex Pina is that you charge somebody and the truth will come out.
“At this time, with everything happening nationally, it’s probably better for [the Pawtucket Police Department] to just work with the community and answer the tough questions. If they want us to trust them with the process when it comes to our loved ones lives, then they need to trust what the community’s saying, the voices in the street, so to speak.”
Bento thinks the police should be more responsive to and open with the community and to the families of victims. “How do you not believe the rumors when you don’t have anybody saying the opposite?”
“As a Pawtucket resident, how do you feel the police serve your needs?” asked UpriseRI.
“That’s a very good question,” said Bento. “I’m a community leader, an activist and an advocate. I’m not very liked because I stand for the people who are voiceless. I’m not afraid to use my voice… The problem is that retaliation happens and I have been retaliated against for a very long time. It’s gotten so old I don’t even worry about it any more…
“I have called [the police] and I can honestly say that lately, some of the new recruits that show up when I call, they’re excellent,” said Bento. “They’re so professional, so good. The bad apples are mostly the older ones who have been here so long and we don’t want them to influence the newer guys who are doing a great job.
“We have to fix what’s been there for so long and let the new guys have a chance to get it right.”
“We’ve been making a little bit of progress… We are really pushing for a community review board – every other city’s doing it, why shouldn’t we? Pawtucket has one of the worst police departments in the state… So you would think they’d want that kind of transparency. I want that for them.”
Bento began the rally speaking to the crowd.
“We all know that we’ve go a national issue going on with the police,” said Bento. “That’s not a secret. But Pawtucket’s very specific, right? We have issues going on here [where] a lot of cover-ups happen. That’s not a secret, I’m not afraid to say it and none of you should be afraid to say it either.”
“This belongs to you,” said Kobe Dennis, indicating the Pawtucket City Hall behind him. “You can come in here any time. You can make complaints. And if you need to do it and you don’t feel secure, that’s when you reach out to people like Khrystyne or myself.”
“We’re here today because we feel the police department are not doing their job or doing it well,” said the brother of Alex Pina.
“I’m proud to announce that in the next couple of weeks or so, CACD is going to be a safe haven,” said Elmer Pina, the current President of CACD (Cape Verdean American Community Development Center) and Vice President of the Providence Branch of the NAACP. “Which means that if you have a complaint against any police officer here in the City of Pawtucket, we are going to be open for you to come and give us your complaint.”
Bento introduces Dimitri Lyssikatos, who cofounded the Rhode Island Accountability Project with Lynn Farinelli.
“The goal of the project is to assemble a public, online database of police complaints so that the residents can examine the investigations and decide for themselves whether they believe that their law enforcement departments did their job properly,” said Lyssikatos. “Since starting our project we have been in constant legal battles with various cities and towns – most notably the City of Pawtucket…”
“Joseph, Alex and Dominique,” said Melissa DeRosa, who is running for Pawtucket City Council. “There is a trend here, and the trend is that the police did not do the right thing…”
“Ultimately my family wants answers, and we are not going to be bullied into not getting them.”
The families of the victims stand in front of City Hall.