Civil Rights

We Keep Us Safe: The election day march to shut down the Wyatt

“No matter who wins [the election] today or in the coming days, we will still show up for each other because we’ll still have to. No matter who wins we still need to protect Black lives, we still need to abolish the police and ICE and we still need to shut down the Wyatt.”

November 4, 2020, 8:48 am

By Steve Ahlquist and

Over 50 people marched from the Cumberland Town Hall and through the streets of Central Falls on Tuesday, making several stops throughout the city on their way to their ultimate destination, the Wyatt Detention Center. The event was organized by AMOR RI (Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance / Alianza para Movilizar Nuestra Resistencia), a coalition of directly affected and people of color led organizations, building a Rapid Response Network in Rhode Island. AMOR has long advocated against national immigration policies and against the incarceration of people at the Wyatt, which serves as an ICE holding facility.

The unusual choice of holding an election day protest was explained by Catarina Lorenzo, executive director of AMOR in Spanish, and Arely Diaz, an organizer with AMOR, in English.

“We know it’s the beginning of a long day – which will probably turn into a very long week for a lot of us… The idea for today came about in thinking about how we wanted to show resistance and how we want to continually uplift our Shut Down Wyatt campaign which we started last year in 2019. We wanted to connect it to the idea of mutual aid and being there for each other and not just having to wait for this election – to decide our fates for ourselves…”

“No matter who wins [the election] today or in the coming days, we will still show up for each other because we’ll still have to,” said Lorenzo and Diaz. “No matter who wins we still need to protect Black lives, we still need to abolish the police and ICE, and we still need to shut down the Wyatt.”

The march trailed behind a van containing 100 mutual aid packages consisting of winter coats, gloves, hand sanitizers, masks and other essential items. These packages were handed out to people along the route.

“We know that mutual aid alone will not solve out problems,” said Lorenzo and Diaz at the march’s first stop, “but as the Black Panthers believed, it is about survival pending revolution. It’s an ecosystem of care and response to a system of institutions like the government that have either failed or caused harm to our community.”

The march left the Cumberland Town Hall and took to the streets. By the time the march reached it’s first destination, Veterans Memorial Park in Central Falls, it had picked up a small police escort.

At each stop organizers presented historical facts about the Wyatt as justification for the need to shut the prison down.

“The Wyatt opened in 1991 to supposedly create more economic opportunities for residents of Central Falls. But it has failed to do that and has become a parasite in this city that needs to be shut down. Despite ongoing community efforts and demonstrations, the Wyatt has continued to participate in the dehumanizing and failed immigration system after it was announced that a new contract with ICE would go into effect in 2019. That ICE contract has allowed the Wyatt to stay open and that is why we must work for this contract to end and end this facility once and for all.”

The march continues:

The next stop was at a Knights of Columbus Hall in Central Falls, serving as a polling place.

“We’re just here to show our disrespect for Christopher Columbus… We reject the idea that Columbus discovered South America. We recognize that Columbus was the one who opened the door to the brutal and violent colonization of the First Nations of these lands. We condemn Columbus for all the damage that he brought – massacring communities, stealing land, and enslaving indigenous people…”

The next stop was near the Captain G Harold Hunt Elementary School.

“In 2019 a protest organized by Never Again Action turned violent after Wyatt guard Thomas Woodworth slammed into protesters with his truck and sent several people to the hospital. Correctional officers then came out of the facility and pepper sprayed everyone on the scene for no reason. This violent response to a peaceful protest demonstrates the aggression with which correctional officers that work inside the Wyatt are taught to respond. If they are willing to respond on the outside this way, we know that people locked in cages inside are not safe.”

Central Falls High School:

“On April 4, 2020, people detained by ICE at the Wyatt launched a hunger strike to demand safer conditions and their release amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wyatt staff responded by retaliating against the hunger strikers, cutting off phone access and placing people in isolation.On April 21, the first case of Covid was reported at the Wyatt. As of October 28, 18 percent of the population held hostage at the Wyatt Detention Center has COVID-19. This is a public health crisis. Warden Daniel Martin did not [publicly report the outbreak of COVID-19] until October 21, although he knew about it well before that time. Warden Martin had not been tracking COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island and was unaware of the spike in cases. He did not require his guards to wear masks. His lack of leadership has put hundreds of people at risk, and further proves the inhumanity of the system and this detention center.”

The march to Central Falls City Hall.

Central Falls City Hall:

“…the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak inside the facility was not the first time the Wyatt refused to attend to people’s health needs. In 2008, Jason Ng, a migrant from Hong Kong, died in immense pain of liver cancer while detained at the facility due to medical neglect and cruelty. A legal claim filed on Jason’s behalf claimed that the guards would drag him by his arms and legs because they claimed Jason was only pretending to be sick.

“This wasn’t just an oversight. This was state violence. We must hold them accountable and shut it down.”

The march arrives at the Wyatt:

As the march arrived at the Wyatt Detention Center, Will James provided the livestream:

The last stop outside the Wyatt included giving away more mutual aid packages, and the final history lesson about the Wyatt.

“Jason’s death in 2008 inside this facility caused ICE to cancel its contract that same year and remove over 150 people from the Wyatt because they knew this facility was dangerous. A few months after Jason’s death, Daniel Cooney, then chairman of the Wyatt, publicly told the media he wanted ICE to return people to the Wyatt due to the loss of income. He publicly stated to the media, ‘Frankly, I’m looking at it like I’m running a Motel 6. I don’t care if it’s Guantanamo Bay. We want to fill the beds.’

“Cooney’s words remind us that private prisons only seek to cause pain for profit. The Wyatt is a still living example and symbol of this pain – Of the pain it causes to our communities and the pain that it causes us every single day that it continues to operate. We know that our cages, private or public, are inhumane. We start with the Wyatt, but we continue until all of our people are free!”

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