The Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC protest of the fatal police shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright was not simply a vigil filled with mourning. It was that, but it was also a strong call for action – political action to create a world in which such shootings, and the racialized policing that enables them, are no longer possible.
As the speakers stood on the south side steps of the Rhode Island State House, just inside the building, arms crossed and waiting, were at least a dozen State and Capitol Police officers. Outside the Providence Police Mall, parked on the median, were Providence Police officers, observing the protest from a distance. In between were the 600 protesters.
Will James has the live feed here:
“We all know why we’re here today. We’re here today because this country, this state, is sick – and it’s sick with white supremacy,” said BLM RI PAC Executive Director Harrison Tuttle.
“And there are people behind me that fully acknowledge that there is a cure,” continued Tuttle, referring to the line of speakers on the steps with him. “They fully acknowledge that Black people, Black and brown communities, are being affected by systems of oppression. And the people behind me are advocating for a radical change of thought – getting people free health care, replacing racist cops with people who represent the community and care about the community.
“We hear oftentimes that people say, ‘Defund the police, that’s a scary word,’ well, let me throw out a word that these right-wing conservatives aren’t ready for. Let’s re-allocate funds. How about that?
“Let’s provide shelter for people out on the street. Let’s feed the hungry. Let’s get people jobs they have lost since the pandemic,” continued Tuttle. “There is absolutely no reason why we should be spending more on a policed, militarized state than feeding our own people…
“We’re not interested in having incremental change. Incremental change is having people like Daunte Wright murdered on the street because of some air freshener. We want impactful change now!”
“It’s time to channel the anger we have into action,” said Joshua Franco, continuing the theme of political action. “We must stand together and fight against institutional racism. The time is now to reallocate funds from the police departments into programs that will benefit the people’s best interests…”
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“We go through this year after year, month after month, day after day at times, we see our young brothers and sisters killed at the hands of the police. When’s it going to stop?” asked activist Rodney Newton. “The difference now is that when the Civil Rights movement came around we were told to just calm down and turn the cheek and take what they’re giving you – That’s just not popping anymore, not with the youth we have now. They have a whole different energy. If we don’t get what we’re supposed to get, we’re going to force it.”
Harrison Tuttle points out the BIPOC community vaccination sign up table:
“It has to be a movement of people if we want to see these systems transform – and not just transformed but built anew,” said Dr Luis Daniel Muñoz, who recently announced that he is running for Governor of Rhode Island. “So my call to you today is to run for city council. Run for a town committee. Run for state office. Take out the reps that do not have the political courage to advocate for you, and to advocate for the children you will have and the grandchildren that they will have.
“It is 2021. We have had Black lives lost to a virus as a result o systemic inequities that we see in health care systems. We have seen abuses and police brutality perpetuated in a time where we should see unity. If you do not rise today – if you do not rise now – then you will have no excuse tomorrow…”
“The question I have today is how long do members of the Black and brown communities have to disproportionately pay or the ‘mistakes’ made by police?” asked Zachary Pinto, before leading the crowd in a moment of silence for Black lives lost to police violence.
“It is sad and infuriating to see yet another Black person being gunned down by cops for no good cause. I stand here in solidarity with you all to honor Daunte Wright’s memory and demand justice. May he rest in peace. I guess this is what going back to normal looks like. It’s why normal has to go. We shouldn’t be in a rush to return to normal when what’s normal is, you know, the murder of citizens by those tasked to protect. When what’s normal is barbaric and injustice,” said Kinverly Dicupe, co-chair of the Providence DSA and Reclaim RI.
“We know most victims of this violence tend to be overwhelmingly poor and Black people. This country has deemed poor Black people to be at the bottom of the social ladder, not worthy of investments, protection and a future. That has to change. When we demand justice, we must demand economic justice alongside it, for the first act of violence committed against poor Black people is the robbing of their wealth and dignity through enforced generational poverty, extended all the way from the time that the slaves won their freedom. The execution by cop is but the last crime committed by the state in the series of crimes.
“So what must we demand? We must demand for all shooting involving a cop and a citizen to be investigated by the federal government. We need guilty cops to catch guilty verdicts. So we need qualified immunity gone. We need to remove funding for fancy toys of oppression and allocate funding to create units of social workers that can deal with nonviolent calls. We need to deprivatized, the prison system, top to bottom. We need to draft a prisoner’s bill of rights that guarantees that prisoners are treated like people. We need to end the war on drugs and treat addiction as a health issue, not a criminal one.
“And all around we need to create a system that breaks the cycle of violence. Then we need to end what is the mother of crime, which is poverty. Poverty is a choice our society has made, and we can choose at any time to restructure society so that people have a floor under them. We can make sure everyone is guaranteed a high standard of living. So no one ever has to steal, sell drugs, sell their body, to make ends meet ever again. We can create a society where people don’t have to self-medicate because their current reality is intolerable.”
“Someone said to me, ‘Dion, you’re a minister, you shouldn’t get angry’ but I’m reminded of the story, if you can indulge me for a quick second, when Jesus was going to the temple. And everything was going wrong with the temple, and He was not happy. So what did He do? He went in and He changed over the money tables. He tore the temple apart,” said Dion Sage, who describe himself as an “old baptist minister.”
“That’s how I feel,” continued Sage, pointing to the State House behind him, “When I look at this building and institution that ignored us last summer. That’s how I feel when the federal government is looking at us wrong.
“It’s time for your temple to be cleansed!”
Harrison Tuttle leads the crowd in a chant.
“Just yesterday a report came out on the Providence Police Department,” said local activist Miguel Sanchez. “Fewer than four percent of calls in 2019 were for violent crimes. 24% of [arrests] had no category of offense listed. In 2019, officers spent more than 1300 hours responding to a person being annoyed. Another 1800 hours were spent responding to complaints of loud music or parties. We don’t need to send people with guns to civilian homes for loud music.”
“We need to build power for Black and brown communities and all people who don’t have enough because very few have way too much,” said Ariel Tavares from Reclaim RI. “We need to bring money and resources out of the hands of elites and into communities who need it most. There are fights for power happening in Rhode Island, across the country and the world every single day. And we need to take them on. We can’t just demand change. We must fight to take power into our own hands with hearts full of love. And I’m going to end on a quote. ‘Power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.’
“Join us, or get the out of our way.”
“Day after day our people are being killed, beaten, mutilated. Day after day our mothers are kneeling on the pavement, their children used as a final resting bed. Day after day Black men are seen as threats – victims of racial profiling, stop and frisk. Day after day boys are being introduced to the streets, our girls are being sexualized. Day after day our babies are being brought into a broken system we know as America,” said activist Zainabou Thiam.
“Emancipation, Reconstruction, Civil Rights, the Black lives Matter movement – What movement will save us?” she asked. “Systematic racism, gentrification, the school-to-prison pipeline, police officers – What will be the death of us?”
“When the time comes, and the people rise up, it won’t be just Black people,” said Harrison Tuttle. “They will be all walks of life. All groups of oppressed people. We will come together, and we are coming together. We will continue to fight for change and we will win.”
“We have something that is called the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights here in Rhode Island,” said Representative David Morales (Democrat, District 7, Providence). “It has existed since the 1970s, right in the peak of the civil rights era. And the police unions, they pushed for it and pushed for it and they got it. City leaders buckled down to them. State leaders buckled down to them. And since then we have had several cases of police violence, several cases of police brutality here in the City of Providence, here in the State of Rhode Island…
“Then they come back and complain that people are talking about defunding us! Yet at the same time we aren’t talking about the fact that we defunded our schools. We have a state budget right now that includes allocations for 23 new police officers, and at the same time, we just cut medicaid for the sixth year in a row…”
“If at a protest is the only time you’re against racism and you’re saying that anti-Blackness has to stop, you’re a part of the problem,” said Brooklyn Toussaint of PROV X. “This work needs to continue past protests, past social media. You guys need to use your voice and speak up when you see injustice towards Black people, when you see racism happening, when you see anti-Blackness happening.”
“We must first look to the root causes of these issues,” said local activist Enrique Sanchez. “We must ask ourselves questions like, Why do people turn to crime and violence? Why do people carry guns in the streets? Why do people sell drugs? …
“We change this by our economic and social models. We advocate for non-violent first responder programs and alternatives to policing. We minimize the amount of firepower that police in this country have. We keep pushing our elected officials to divest funds from policing and militarism…
“We invest in quality public education for everyone and invest in public institutions that will provide for everyone, and not only a few selected…”