Around 100 people gathered yet again on the south steps of the Rhode Island State House, this time in a call for justice in the case of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, who was killed by police in Columbus, Ohio. The killing took place minutes before the guilty verdict of police officer Derek Chauvin, for the murder of George Floyd. 16-year-old Bryant was fatally shot by a Columbus police officer responding to a call for help at her foster home. Body camera footage released by police shows Bryant swinging what appears to be a knife at two people during an altercation outside the property before an officer arrives and fires four shots at her torso.
“We see people like Kyle Rittenhouse, or whatever his name is, carry assault rifles and not be killed. Yet one of our people, someone who called the police for help, ends up getting shot by police and killed,” said Harrison Tuttle, Executive Director of the Black Lives Matter RI PAC, in the cold and blustery wind. “We’re here because yet another 15-year-old, yet another one of our kids, was murdered in the street, for nothing,”
The protest was held as a vigil for Ma’Khia Bryant, but also as a call to repeal the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (LEOBoR).
“For too long law enforcement [officers] have had the right to be able to police themselves and not have any accountability,” continued Tuttle. “So at this time I’m asking the General Assembly and the Governor of Rhode Island, if you truly care about our people and our community, repeal the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights.
“And that doesn’t mean reform it. That means repeal it. Get rid of it all together.”
“I don’t know why there’s fucking ten police cops over there, and ten state patrol officers behind us,” said activist Enrique Sanchez. “I don’t know what harm we can do to the city. But this proves that the state, the police state, cares more about property than people trying to do the right thing.”
“The first thing I want to say is rest in peace, Ma’Khia Bryant,” said Kinverly Dicupe, co-chair of the Providence DSA and Reclaim RI. “We’ve lost another angel at the hands of the police. Chauvin was convicted, and yet injustice remains unbound. Each time a Black girl or woman is murdered by police I feel a unique pain, because I know just how much Black girls and women have to struggle in America, just to make ends meet.
“We’re victims of domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, [and] work exploitation at incredibly high rates,” continued Dicupe. “And often, hen we are victims of police violence, we are overlooked by our own communities…”
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Dr Luis Daniel Muñoz, who is running for Governor of Rhode Island, called for strengthened accountability measures across all municipal police departments.
“How can we expect to adequately assess, and transform, any system of public safety, if law enforcement agencies in different states, cities, and towns are allowed to operate under different standards and expectations?” asked Dr Muñoz. “We can strengthen accountability. We can effect this change, today.”
Dr Muñoz called for:
- Rhode Island’s congressional delegation should call for an assessment of the national accreditation process for law enforcement agencies, in order to ensure that the policies, protocols, and professional standards provide adequate guidance in areas related to internal investigations, mental health screenings, and racial justice.
- Rhode Island state leaders should mandate all municipal police departments to acquire national accreditation, and allocate state funds to cover the costs of accreditation related audits.
- Rhode Island’s version of the law enforcement accreditation process should be expanded to mirror the national accreditation framework, expanding its coverage from 200 policies and standards to the 460+ policies and standards assessed within the national accreditation process.
“What really gets me is that when I was 14-years-old I got into a fight. And like Ma’Khia I had a knife and plunged it towards the person I was fighting with,” said Andira Alves, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL). “The police were called and I remember feeling cornered by them, by the person I was fighting with – Just everyone, at that moment.
“Not that I actually wanted to harm myself, or them, but I wanted to be left alone. I also wanted to be taken seriously because as a young Black girl I knew even then – Everything had to be a fight, and though I didn’t have the language, I knew that was the only option the system had ever given me.
“Luckily I survived my first encounter with police with a night in jail and community service…”
Cedric took the mic to introduce the young people he brought with him.
“I brought the future with me because I want them to see a change. I don’t want them to be the next ones that this happens to,” said Cedric. “These are mainly my little cousins. They’re tired of seeing the police killing people like us all the time.”
Mark Gonsalves, father of Jhamal Gonsalves, who was severely injured last year when a Providence Police Officer drove into a stop sign that hit Jhamal, spoke to the crowd.
“Police do not protect anyone. They protect property. They protect property above all else. Those pigs sitting down there, are they protecting anyone? Five police cars sitting right on that island. Who are they protecting? The fucking Cheesecake Factory.”
“I feel that these protests, these actions, are getting too performative for me,” said activist Brooklyn Toussaint. “I don’t understand what, exactly, this is going to do for our people who are being slain. Every time it happens we do this. We say Black Lives Matter, and then it happens again and we come right back here…”
“There are people behind the walls, convicted of a crime that they might not necessarily committed, but they are there because of the color of their skin,” said activist Alexandrea Gonzalez.
A moment of silence for Ma’Khia:
Will James has the livestream, but high winds made the audio difficult.