Just over three dozen people rallied at the Rhode Island State House on Sunday afternoon to “support our youth and protest police brutality.” The event was organized by Providence resident Katherine Ahlquist. Full disclosure: Katherine Ahlquist is the spouse of UpriseRI founder and reporter Steve Ahlquist.]
“We’re here because our youth have been on the streets long before there was a Black Lives Matter rally, but especially since June when they gathered by the hundreds to stand up [against] what they believed was wrong,” said Ahlquist to the crowd. “They took to the streets and they marched. They raised their voices to let people know that they needed to be heard, they needed to be listened to they needed people to understand that there were things that were happening that were not right in this world.”
Ahlquist conceived the event to what she saw in the video of the police vehicle/moped impact that left Jhamal Gonsalves in the hospital and in a coma from which he has yet to emerge.
“Two weeks ago there was a video. There were young people who had been out on ATVs and mopeds and one was chased by a police officer and that police officer caused that rider to slam into a building fall off his bike and become injured. In the video that we watched after that accident occurred we saw a police officer drag that person by his arm, someone who had obviously just sustained head injuries, dragged him by the arm as if he didn’t matter,” said Ahlquist. “We saw [the police] more concerned about their own appearance than about the health and welfare of one of the children of our city… I was appalled by the lack of sensitivity by the police. [That person] just needed some attention, some tender loving care and to be brought to the hospital as soon as possible.”
Here’s the live feed from UpriseRI reporter Will James, followed by breakout video of all the speakers at the event:
Bella Noka and Randy Noka, elders from the Narragansett Tribe provided a land acknowledgement, blessing, and some words.
“Your ancestors came here for a better way of life,” said Bella Noka. “Open up your hearts and minds to the people who are just like them and have been in circumstances just as [your ancestors] have been.When we tell their stories of them arriving here with only 50 cents in their pocket and making it? You cannot arrive anywhere with 50 cents and make it anywhere unless someone reached out, took your hand, and helped. So we have to be the ones to reach out and help.”
Reverend Jamie Washam from the First Baptist Church of Rhode Island provided a blessing and some words as well:
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“I’m here to claim that business as usual does not have to be the way we continue to live going forward. Another world is possible,” said Reverend Washam. “One where the police don’t fear young people. Where the youth don’t fear the police. Too often so many of our Black and brown youth have to be educated about how they are to comport themselves in the presence of police but it is overdue for our police to take responsibility for how they comport themselves in the presence of everyone of our citizens.
“I look out and I see young people and they could be my son and they could be my daughter, and my fervent desire is that our police will look out and see young people as their child – their son, their daughter, their sister, their brother, their mother, their father. That they would treat every citizen with the same dignity and respect that they desire for members of their own households.”
Here’s the full video of Katherine Ahlquist’s words:
“People have a right to be angry,” said Ben Evans from the Rhode Island National Lawyers Guild (NLG). “They have a right to rebel. They have a right to express their outrage at what happened to Jhamal Gonsalves… When people are met with a militarized force of armored police, with their sticks and their weapons, that is something, in my experience and from what I’ve seen, that does provoke violence.”
“I want to condemn John DePetro,” said Brooklyn Toussaint of PROVX, a group that has led many protests in Providence. DePetro is a right wing radio show host. “I don’t know why he’s out here inciting violence against us, inciting the right wingers to run us over, making threats all the time, and the police are following through on that. Police terror is more than physical. It lasts a long time and it does a lot to us. I know for me, mentally, physically, emotionally, it takes a lot out of us. It’s good to always say we can’t be broken, but at the end of the day, we’re tired of having to feel like that…”
“As I’ve been reporting on protests here in Rhode Island since June, I have been included in police responses that has been given to protesters that often have been uneven, not targeted, and outright violent,” said UpriseRI reporter Will James, reporting on what he’s seen while covering potests in Rhode Island. “There was one time on the East Side, at a pretty low-key protest, that a police officer pulled up directly towards me and I had to step out of the way and if I had not moved I would have been hit by the car.
“I didn’t talk about that. I didn’t mention it because I try not to make myself the focus.
“I was also peppered sprayed near the Cranston/Providence border, at a Jhamal Gonsalves protest,” continued James. “The reason I am speaking today is, even though I try to avoid bias, it’s difficult to do that when the state, police officers and any other representatives of the state, target me as a member of the press when I’m trying to do my job. I will always take everyone seriously when the raise concerns with me about reporting and being unbiased, but it’s difficult to do that when the other side is being a bad actor.”
Soon to be former Rhode Island State Representative Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence) also spoke at the event.
“Democracy is a team sport, not every two years, not every four years. And as a soon to be former elected official, I will tell you – The people in this marble dome work for you. You are their bosses and as such your responsibilities do not stop on the day that you hire them. If your employees at the State House are not fulfilling job that you sent them there to do, I suggest that you start looking for their replacements now,” said Representative Walsh.
“Police accountability is something that should be a no-brainer. So we need to be contacting our city councilors who are in charge of the police budget and telling them that we no longer want our hard earned money to be poured into a corrupt system that criminalizes Black and brown skin. I don’t care if your moped is unregistered. I don’t care if you flip the cop the bird. I don’t care if you punch a kitten in the face, the sentence for those crimes is not a hospital stay. Period.”
Katherine Ahlquist wrapped up the event a little early, due to the rain.