One year after George Floyd – BLM RI PAC demands policy, not platitudes

“There have been a lot of shows of solidarity for Black lives,” said Senator Tiara Mack. “There has been very little progress to change the ways in which Black and brown and low-income people experience real and tangible change on the precipice of a national and global conversation about how we reckon with racism, not only in our policies but in the practices of those policies.”
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Published on May 26, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

“I just want to be clear that Justice is Black people not dying at the hands of the police,” said Harrison Tuttle, executive director of the Black Lives Matter RI PAC (BLM RI PAC). “Justice looks like ending state sanctioned violence, ending systemic problems that cause inequalities in housing and eduction and most importantly, policing.

“And we must look to reinvest into those areas that need it the most instead of pouring more funds into policing and less funds into our necessary services.”

Tuttle was talking to a crowd of nearly 100 people on the south steps of the Rhode Island State House at a rally to commemorate the one year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. George Floyd was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin a year ago. Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes, suffocating him to death, on video. Chauvin was convicted of murder. The rally came with a demand: BLM RI PAC and many other social and racial groups and activists in Rhode Island are calling for a full repeal of LEOBoR, the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights.

LEOBoR provides a list of special protections for police officers in Rhode Island accused of misconduct, including:

  • Under LEOBoR an officer can only be suspended for two days. Repeal gives police officers the same protections as every other state/city public servant.
  • Under LEOBoR the discipline hearing panel consists of three people, one is chosen by the police chief, one by the officer accused, and one “neutral” chosen with the agreement of the two other arbitrators. Repeal would allow the police chief to determine appropriate action, restoring accountability for misconduct to the police department.
  • Under LEOBoR, Police Chiefs and Political leaders are prohibited from talking about the discipline officers may or may not receive. Repeal has no limitations on statements, the same standards as every other state/city public servant.

Rhode Island is one of only 15 states in the United States with LEOBoR, the one New England state with LEOBoR, and the only northern state with LEOBoR. Most states, including neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut, do fine without it.

Back at Tuesday evening’s rally, Tuttle called for a moment of silence in memory of George Floyd. Tuttle then reminded those in attendance that at a recent Rhode Island Senate Judiciary hearing, around 75 people testified in favor of a bill from Senator Tiara Mack (Democrat, District 6, Providence), S0773, which would repeal LEOBoR in its entirety.

Tuttle said that the ball is now in the court of Senators Cynthia Armour Coyne (Democrat, District 32, Barrington) and Stephen Archambault (Democrat, District 22, Smithfield, Johnston, North Providence), who chair and co-chair the committee. Not said at the rally is that Coyne and Archameault are both former Rhode Island State Police officers.

“Do they want to listen to the community and put this for a vote?” asked Tuttle. “I want everybody to understand that if this does not pass, it’s because the judiciary committee and the people in the judiciary committee like Senator Archambault, like Senator Coyne, do not want this to pass.”

“I recall George Floyd’s assassination last year like it was yesterday,” said Joyce Wise, a former BLM RI PAC executive director. “I was literally watching a video of a man being assassinated at the hands of a police officer. It was honestly the longest nine minutes and 29 seconds of my life…

“George Floyd could have easily been me, my sons, and so many like me and every other Black, brown and indigenous. He did not willingly give his life for this cause. He was murdered. I’m adamantly and unapologetically using the platform God has given me to push the importance of defunding the police…

“We can no longer can trust the academy to produce officers that are going to serve and protect all of us… Our communities no longer need them and they no longer serve a purpose in our community…”

Policing is not the only example of systemic racism in Rhode Island.

“During this pandemic, we know that Black and brown communities have been affected disproportionately by Covid,” noted Tuttle, noting that vaccine distribution was also not equitable.

“Indifference is not going to pave the path for justice,” said Dr Luis Daniel Muñoz, who is a Democratic candidate for Governor of Rhode Island. Dr Muñoz helped lead an effort to vaccinate communities of color in Rhode Island. “And the fact is, indifference is pretty pervasive in all of the institutions whether it’s policing or the building right behind us.”

Dr Muñoz noted the differences in police auditing here in Rhode Island, and the national standards used by most police departments in the United States. Here in Rhode Island, these reviews are based on about half the metrics used nationally.

“Why are we limiting our investigation into police practices here in Rhode Island?” Asked Dr Muñoz. “Is racial justice a practice – Is racial justice a principle that policing systems even think about?”

Senator Tiara Mack, joining the rally directly after the Rhode Island Senate ended it’s business for the day, spoke about systemic, racial violence.

“The violence of families that are forced to work multiple low-wage jobs in order to provide housing and food for their young people. The violence of the lack of quality schools in our communities. The violence of not having access to critical healthcare. The violence of a system that does not believe that every single person in our community is deserving of respect, not matter their identity, their race of religion,” said Senator Mack.

“That is the violence that we have still not yet talked about at the statewide level,” continued Senator Mack. “There have been a lot of shows of solidarity for Black lives. There has been very little progress to change the ways in which Black and brown and low-income people experience real and tangible change on the precipice of a national and global conversation about how we reckon with racism, not only in our policies but in the practices of those policies.

“Since the events of last summer and marches where this area here had tens of thousands of people we’ve elected more Black leaders, we’ve elected more leaders of color, yet we still have policy makers and gate holders who will not pass the legislation that Black, brown, indigenous and low-income communities are fighting for at our State House…

“We still do not have police accountability in our state. We still have the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights which prevents our having police accountability. We still have only just gotten a pathway to $15, we have not yet gotten true wage justice in our state. We’ve been fighting tax the wealthiest Rhode Islanders. We have not yet made a commitment that every single person in our state is going to pay their fair share so that we can fund our schools. So that we can fund our health infrastructure. So that we can fund the community resources that we need…

“These are the things we fight for and must continue to fight for…”

“It was a rough day for me today,” said Mark Fisher of Black Lives Matter RI, reflecting on the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death. “I was struggling emotionally. I was crying to myself… and even though the crowds have dwindled, the passion is still there and it’s going to take extraordinary leadership and ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”

Harrison Tuttle closed the rally out with a plea or people to join any other the great social justice groups doing work in Rhode Island. (And he gave a special shout-out to UpriseRI!)

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