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PERA reviews recent Providence protests



What I saw on Dean Street on July 23 was in my view a really excessive use of force against one part of a protest, against one side, if you will, of a public protest, where the other side was basically given free reign and allowed to do pretty much whatever they wanted to do.

The Providence External Review Board (PERA), tasked with the hob of civilian oversight of the Providence Police Department, held a long meting Tuesday evening during which they reviewed dramatic footage of police interactions with protesters during recent weeks. Below is all the footage from the meeting.

The meeting began with an opening statement from PERA Board Chair Nicholas Figueroa.

“We’ve been diligently chipping away at the open cases that we have,” said Figueroa. “We were able to get a subpoena to retrieve some of the records that we needed for review as a board. The hope is that with this momentum as we’re getting more and more information on the cases or complaints that have been filed with PERA we absolutely want to ensure that we’re eliminating any and all obstacles in terms of our ability to retrieve documentation from the Police Department so that we can find resolutions to those that have put their confidence and their trust in this board.

“I know it hasn’t been ideal to date,” continued Figueroa. “We’ve been delayed in receiving information, but that is due to no lack of trying… What I would like individuals who have filed complaints through this board and those who are becoming aware of our existence … is that we are working diligently and we are doing everything we can that is within our authority to resolve those cases as quickly as possible.

“We’re in a place now where we have to start producing results, whether they’re for or against” concluded Figueroa. “But we have to begin to end the process of having challenges in retrieving data or information from the department, and executing, to the best of our ability, the resolution of the complaints that have been received by PERA.”

The next agenda item was a discussion about the recent series of protests in Providence with Benjamin Evans and Jing Marcos of the National Lawyers Guild, and Selene Means a reporter with UpriseRI. The National Lawyers Guild sponsors legal observers to monitor the rights of protesters, and Selene Means is a frequent contributor to UpriseRI who has photographed and video recorded many protests here in the state.

“Obviously there’ve been a large number of protests here in Providence,” said Evans. “And we’ve been there for almost all of those.

“Just last night there was also a Black Lives Matter demonstration,” continued Evans. “I was legal observing at that too. They began at the Public Safety Complex on Dean Street marched all through Providence, up and down Atwells Avenue and Broadway, all through Downtown Providence and ended up back at the Public Safety Complex.”

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That protest was live streamed by UpriseRI reporter Will James, and can be seen in its entirety here:

“I would suggest that what was particularly notable about the Black Lives Matter demonstration in Providence last night was that this was organized by Prov X, which is obviously a group of young people, very passionate, and as Chairman Figueroa mentioned, very outraged by the recent police shooting of Mr Blake in Kenosha Wisconsin and the other recent police actions,” said Evans.

“They gathered last night at around 6pm or so, at the Public Safety Complex, and there was, I would say, a muted police presence. Very few police officers. There were no police following them on their march, at least that I saw. I saw almost no police whatsoever. And the march was passionate, but it was peaceful. I don’t believe there were any arrests at all. I didn’t notice any disturbances or fights or anything. They really were able to moderate their presence in the streets of Providence, so I didn’t see any problems.

“And that’s notable,” continued Evans. “The police weren’t there, and there weren’t these types of problems. I think that is a stark, stark contrast to the kind of violence by the Providence Police and the Rhode Island State Police that we saw, for example, on the night of July 23.”

See: PERA calls for immediate briefing on two recent incidents involving Providence Police Officers

“That was a demonstration that was to my understanding called by a group called Back the Blue,” said Evans. “I think Back the Blue is a pro-police organization. I got there around 6pm or so and I saw about nine Back the Blue protesters and what was interesting to me was that they were kind of gathered in the parking lot of the Public Safety Complex … and they were obviously very friendly with the police. They were talking to the police – it was obviously a very cordial relationship they had with the police.

“Further on down the street, towards Washington Street, we could see a small group of counter protesters, Black Lives Matter protesters. A very small group…

“It wasn’t until 7:35pm or so that that Black Lives Matter protesters moved up from Washington Street and were having a counter protest. And at that point it became very clear that the police were not neutral arbitrators or neutral referees, but that they were very, I would say, partisan.

“The Back the Blue protesters were able to move about freely. They could walk wherever they wanted. One fellow had a white pickup truck parked across the street… and he would lean on the horn. and blast the horn to drown out the Black Lives Matter protesters and he was not reprimanded at all by the police. And that same fellow was wandering around the whole area, on both sides of the street.

“What we saw happen was – as soon as the Black Lives Matter protesters tried to move into the street, and move towards the east side of Dean Street, all of sudden you saw a huge police response.

“Police in full riot gear with their batons out, moving very aggressively, and that’s when this young woman was arrested there,” said Evans.

Photo by Jing Marcos presented to PERA last night

“It was very clear that the people who were supporting Back the Blue, who were supporting the police, were able to walk wherever they wanted,” continued Evans. “They were able to have a mobile sound system that they [used] to sing songs to drown out the Black Lives Matter protesters, but as far as the Black Lives Matter protesters, when they tried to move towards the east side of Dean Street, the police grabbed this young woman. She was very small, I’d say maybe five feet tall at most, she did not appear to be any kind of threat to anybody. The police grabbed her, and in one of the pictures

“What I saw on Dean Street on July 23 was in my view a really excessive use of force against one part of a protest, against one side, if you will, of a public protest, where the other side was basically given free reign and allowed to do pretty much whatever they wanted to do.”

Evans went on to describe what he called a series of demonstrations on July 25 that culminated in a march that began at the Public Safety Complex. “I think, again, we just saw an incredible show of force with police with sticks and full riot armor preceding any sort of confrontation. What I saw there that night, on July 25, was the police essentially escalating the situation. They came out in their riot gear, with their night sticks, in a very aggressive way, escalating the situation.”

See: Providence Police make several arrests during Portland Solidarity rally and march

This resulted in at least three arrests on Partington Way, noted Evans. “In some videos you can see police, after they grabbed people, beating them with sticks. “That seems a really excessive use of force,” said Evans.

“Again, I would contrast it with the march that happened last night where there was almost no police presence and the protest went on and it was a peaceful example of people expressing their first amendment rights.”

PERA then discussed the funding of investigations, and the need for better funding:

PERA then discussed plans for public meetings to explain police procedures and civil rights.

After a two hour executive session that was closed to the public, PERA came back and concluded the meeting.

Here’s the meeting agenda.

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.