“I was offered no phone call, no water, and no one wore their masks during the ordeal. Further, the staff and officers sought to humiliate me by denying me my medically necessary glasses while I sat overnight in a solitary cell. It was a deeply troubling experience to go through in America.“
I hadn’t planned on going to the street action in Providence on July 25th. It had been a long day already, and I had attended a caravan protest and a rally at the State House. I even had dinner plans out of town that night. But I was curious to see the turnout. It was billed as solidarity with Portland and slated to start at 8pm. So, I drove over at 7pm to the parking lot where they were supposed to begin so I could have a first-person account.
After watching the crowd form up, I decided to leave. I drove past the police presence at the Public Safety Complex but found myself boxed in by media. When the march cleared Dean Street, I decided to follow them as they seemed to be taking the same route I needed to find my exit to the highway—I was trying to be on time for dinner and couldn’t see the harm in observing for a few more minutes.
As I rolled through the intersection at John J Partington and Washington, the crowds began to pass from the north side of the intersection to the southern crosswalk. Police had formed up in a phalanx on that side, and suddenly my vehicle was surrounded by moving pedestrians. I stopped my car, put on the flashers, and placed the vehicle in park to wait for a safe opportunity to continue onwards.
At some point smoke bombs filled the air and I did not feel safe sitting in the cabin of my car. I opened the door for air and visibility of what was happening. I witnessed people get dragged to the ground by police here and there. At least three people, each being wrestled, it seemed, by two, three, five police officers, all grabbing and kicking. One officer in white short-sleeves took the shoes off of one detainee. At another point, an officer in an airsoft outfit holding a 36” wooden club began pounding his chest and making threats like he was participating in some gladiatorial sporting event.
It was surreal.
After a few minutes, the crowd began to retreat to the north side of the intersection. I walked the three or four paces to my still-open car door, but I was interrupted by a police officer. The rest is a matter in an open case and I will not comment on details other than to say I was not allowed to take possession of my vehicle. I informed everyone present that I do not consent to illegal searches or seizures and asked if I was free to go or being detained.
Many police were suddenly pressed against me, holding me, and someone fumbled with zip cuffs. No one announced my Miranda, and this persisted until I signed a printed paper version of them very early the following morning. They did not charge me with anything for days. They took me to holding, listed me as a John Doe (my wallet and IDs were in my vehicle which had been seized), and told me I ought to call the Chief of Police. I was offered no phone call, no water, and no one wore their masks during the ordeal. Further, the staff and officers sought to humiliate me by denying me my medically necessary glasses while I sat overnight in a solitary cell. It was a deeply troubling experience to go through in America.
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While I and the others swept away that night were eventually processed out and arraigned, this was only after sustained, extraordinary pressure was put on the police, the City Solicitor, our Mayor, Attorney General, and Governor. Who knows what might have happened to us if our fellow citizens had not stood up for our rights and the rule of law. I was charged with a misdemeanor crime, assigned a court date, and told that for the next sixty days, I had no liberty. I was at risk of having a traffic stop end as 90 days in the ACI without bail. I was told I could not leave the state without permission. I was informed by my counsel that I might have my communications and movements under surveillance by authorities for the same period. It was an eerie feeling to be told these things.
It did not feel like the America I had been brought up to believe in. In that America, we all have guarantees against such abuses of state power over our freedoms to associate, speak, and assemble. Not to mention restrictions against seizure and harsh treatment.
The charges were dropped and my case dismissed once a prosecutor examined the reports and affidavits. This was insulting and only served to underscore the frivolity of the police’s actions on that day, as well as the lack of grounds for everything subsequent to that day. What was the purpose of any of this? Why did I and my cohorts have our due process denied, our liberty restricted, and such onerous penalties threatened to us? Was it because we were seen exercising our First Amendment rights? Was it because that speech and assembly was seen as standing up for Black Lives and against unchecked police power? Was the intent to discourage others from coming out into the streets for civil disobedience and speaking truth to power? Was it to make us think twice about participating in further actions to call for systemic change so our society, and the police specifically, value Black life?
If these were the objectives, they failed. Since the end of July, so many thousands in Rhode Island have decided to take a stand and demand that Due Process, Rule of Law, and the full Bill of Rights in our Constitution are honored by every agency and office in the State. The police simply do not have the authority to make laws on the spot, and that is what they seem to be doing time and again on our streets. This is not a new development, as many in our BIPOC communities will attest. However, it seems like we are at an inflection point where even the façade of civility is falling aside. I and others have been extra-legally detained, had due process suspended, and given trumped-up charges for protected political activity. This isn’t right.
We must all remind ourselves that the police are scared of us and our power to change things for the best. We hold the vision of a better tomorrow in our hearts and our minds and for that we are treated as criminals, they smear our names in the media, and invite violence against us as political dissidents. It is heartening to know that they are so afraid of We, The People holding them to a higher standard. It is heartening to know that the first abolitionists in America, those who called for an end to the institution of slavery, were treated the exact same way.
We will continue to fight. Why not stand for America’s ideals? Those ideals and the lives of our neighbors are worth fighting for. Please – Be Disobedient.