“A Genocide Happened Here, Rhode Island is Guilty,” read the protester’s banner.
Several people were arrested in Providence on Monday night after blocking Route 95 near the Providence Place Mall. Protesters parked a U-Haul truck and a car, blocking all lanes on the northbound highway for over 7 minutes. In all, there were around a dozen people on the highway, chanting and unfurling a banner that read, “A Genocide Happened Here, Rhode Island is Guilty,” an apparent reference to the celebration of Columbus.
Protesters launched two fireworks on the highway, then left of their own accord. The U-Haul was quickly located by Rhode Island State Police officers near Exit 23. Around 20 police vehicles surrounded the U-Haul van and 7 arrests were made in relation to the action.
The Rhode Island State Police soon published the names and addresses of the protesters who were arrested. Activists such as Antifash Gordon identified this as doxxing, the practice of releasing private information, usually with the intention to cause harm. A campaign sprung up with the goal of mass reporting the State Police’s posts so that they would be removed from Twitter and Instagram. Within hours the State Police’s post was deleted from Twitter, but they immediately created a new post with a link to the same information using the State Police logo as the main content, instead of a graphic showing the faces and addresses of protesters.
Democratic Rhode Island State Senator Leonidas Raptakis has suggested introducing a law which would effectively criminalize protesting on a highway. In 2015, Senator Raptakis proposed a similar bill. Republican State Senator Thomas Paolino shared Uprise RI’s livestream of the protest and wrote that he would support an effort to introduce legislation related to protesting on a highway.
In 2017, Democratic Rhode Island State Representatives Arthur Corvese and William O’Brien co-sponsored another similar bill. That bill, H5690, “would provide that a person driving an automobile who is exercising due care and injures another person who is participating in a protest or demonstration and is blocking traffic in a public right-of-way shall be immune from civil liability for such injury.” The primary sponsor was Republican State Representative Justin Price.
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This protest was the third part of a 12 hour day of action organized by Indigenous peoples and local abolitionists in Rhode Island to demand that the State recognize Indigenous Peoples Day and make Columbus Day obsolete. A flyer announced plans to take direct action by holding space at the State House, standing in solidarity by protesting the massacre of Indigenous peoples. Earlier in the day, various Indigenous tribes held a sacred ceremony with song and dance, and there was an open microphone to allow the public to “protest Columbus Day and demand it be renamed Indigenous Peoples Day and honor Indigenous history.”
Update (10/14/20): This article has been updated to include information about another proposed law related to highway protests.