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PERA begins review of Jhamal Gonsalves case, wants bigger role



People who witnessed police violence at Tuesday night’s #JusticeForJhamal protest addressed the board.

“My question, that I sincerely hope you will ask the police chief, is why did they show up in riot gear in the first place? Because I’ve been to dozens of protests in Providence, and it seems like the only time they show up prepared with riot gear is when they know it’s Black and brown people protesting…”

On Wednesday the Providence External Review Authority (PERA), the only civilian police review authority in Rhode Island, discussed some of the issues surrounding Sunday’s police cruiser/moped impact that landed Jhamal Gonsalves in the hospital and in a coma from which he hasn’t emerged. Since that time, there have been at least two protests (here and here) and twice law enforcement has violently engaged with the protesters (here and here). This PERA meeting took place on Wednesday afternoon, before the events at the PVD/Cranston border later that evening.

PERA Chair Nicholas Figueroa called the incident that took place over the weekend an “unfortunate situation” and extended well wishes to Gonsalves and his family for a full recovery. “As the PERA board,” added Figueroa, “we would like to have active participation looking into that matter, to be able to examine, as the independent body that we are… We have had some preliminary discussions but [PERA] is not yet included in the overall discussion that was laid out today at the press conference in terms of having an independent body take a look at this particular incident.”

PERA took public comment during the meeting. Only two people called in to report what they had seen and experienced Tuesday night when the police began to arrest protesters. The first caller was Carlos Romero:

Yesterday I was at the protest and I experienced a variety of things which does not really go along with what police said. Police said they kept themselves professional – That did not happen at all. Last night one of the main things I witnessed was someone currently in the hospital, there’s a protester in the hospital from what happened last night. I witnessed another person who wasn’t trying to do anything to the police – they were trying to provide support to the one in the hospital – the police surrounded them and then started beating them with their sticks – and then tackled them to the ground.

This was not someone the same size as the police officers. They were really big guys who tackled them onto the floor. Witnessing that – – It was terrible.

Again, the narrative the police are trying to push is that they kept things all fine – they were just trying to keep control of the situation – they didn’t keep control of anything. If anything, them charging at protesters, many of whom were simply leaving, just because some random ones were throwing water bottles – it’s just completely insane…

The next person to speak to the PERA Board was community activist Justice Gaines, who echoed Carlos Romero and added:

What I saw last night was a disgusting show of force by the Providence Police. They pushed protesters back from the Public Safety Complex and then chased them past the schools and through Elmwood. They chased people, that’s what they did. It was not about protecting a perimeter.It was not about defending themselves. It was about showing and intimidating young people who were out there because a young man was thrown off his moped.

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And the way that they came at protesters. I saw a boy get tackled by about eight to 15 police officers at Burger King. I really don’t care that people were throwing water bottles, okay? There were a few fire crackers, there were a few fireworks, I was closer to some of them than the police were. But the fact is police chose to keep charging at young people – They charged them across four blocks, if not more.

That is unacceptable behavior and the fact that our city leadership could stand there and commend them for that behavior is utterly irresponsible during this time. It must be understood that [the police] did not conduct themselves well. They conducted themselves by showing their power and their strength – against unarmed folks who were maybe finding rocks.

But that’s not a police baton. That’s not a helmet. That’s not tear gas. That’s not having their dogs out. My question, that I sincerely hope you will ask the police chief, is why did they show up in riot gear in the first place? Because I’ve been to dozens of protests in Providence, and it seems like the only time they show up prepared with riot gear is when they know it’s Black and brown people protesting…

PERA Executive Director Jose Batista said that he will be asking the Providence Police Department for copies of all the reports of the arrests the night before. PERA issued a press release to this effect on Monday.

Batista said that he was clear that he wanted PERA involved in the case of Jhamal Gonsalves as early as Monday morning. PERA is usually shown reports after the fact, and it has been made claer to the public, from the law end=forcement side, that PERA will have no active role in the investigation. “The public will note that [PERA] has not been part of either of the two press conferences, so far,” said Batista. “I think we should have been.”

PERA wants to be at the table, getting information in real time.

Here’s the full video of the meeting, where much more was discussed:

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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.