Providence Police search unhoused encampment – threaten arrests

“Listen to me,” said the officer. “You’re this close to getting arrested for disorderly conduct. You’re very close. Don’t challenge me on it because you’ll be in handcuffs in a second.”
Photo for Providence Police search unhoused encampment – threaten arrests

Published on June 6, 2021
By Uprise RI

On Saturday night, just after sundown, four Providence Police cruisers arrived at the unhoused encampment near Broad Street in Providence to rattle tents, shine lights in the faces of scared residents, and demand identifications in a search for people with outstanding warrants. Two officers went from tent to tent, demanding identification and radioing in details, as could be seen in a series of five videos made available to UpriseRI by one of the residents. UpriseRI is withholding the video from public view to respect the privacy of those living in the encampment.

No arrests were made by police.

UpriseRI has sent an Access to Public Records (APRA) request to the Providence Police for copies of the body cam footage and police reports related to the incident.

According to Diumila Almonte, the leader and spokesperson for the encampment, police officers pushed their way through the gate and entered the lot.

“Their demeanor was very hostile at the beginning – shaking tents, waking up people who were sleeping – and just really disturbing the peace that we’re trying to create here,” said Almonte to UpriseRI reporters Will James and Steve Ahlquist, who arrived after the police had left.

“They didn’t ask me any questions personally, because I don’t answer most of their questions – I’m a little bit more stubborn,” continued Almonte. “But they were just asking everybody’s name and trying to search them for warrants and trying to find a reason to arrest people.”

No arrests were made by police.

“Thank God,” said Almonte. “I would have been heartbroken.”

A police officer in one video claims that there have been fires lit inside the compound.

“We have not set one fire in the time that we’ve been here,” said Almonte to UpriseRI, “not even a grill.”

“It seems like they’re having fires here,” said an officer in the video.

“Oh my God, you are such a liar,” responded Almonte. “Only rookies lie about bullshit ass shit.”

“Don’t go there,” warned the officer.

“What fire was here?” asked Almonte.

“Listen to me,” said the officer. “You’re this close to getting arrested for disorderly conduct. You’re very close. Don’t challenge me on it because you’ll be in handcuffs in a second.”

“I have the freedom to say whatever I want,” noted Almonte, correctly. “I’m not threatening you.”

“You do,” agreed the officer. “And I have the freedom to be a complainant for disorderly conduct. I will place you in custody and I will take you to jail.”

“You guys can lie and wrongly accuse people of stuff,” said Almonte. “Get in their faces whenever you think…”

“I get in your face?” asked an officer.

“He has,” said Almonte, referring to the other officer.

“You got in my face,” countered the second officer, becoming increasingly belligerent. “Are you on private property? Is this your property? You have permission to be on this property? I don’t think you do. Do you, yes or no, have permission to be on this property? What are you waiting for to answer that question?”

“They were just being big bullies,” said Almonte to UpriseRI. “They’re just legal bullies, that’s it.”

In another video, an officer said to Almonte that he saw evidence of narcotics.

“What’s the evidence?” asked Almonte.

“Syringes,” said the officer.

“Would you point them out?” asked Almonte.

“What?” asked the officer.

“Would you like to point [the syringes] out? Because I think you’re just trying to lie because you’re on camera,” said Almonte.

“Are you for real?” asked the officer dismissively. “Be gone.”

The police continued to radio in the identifications of those sleeping in the encampment, looking for active warrants.

“Is anybody getting arrested tonight?” asked Almonte.

“Maybe,” responded an officer.

“I just think that cops need to find a hobby,” said Almonte to UpriseRI. “Seriously, they didn’t arrest anybody, they threatened to arrest me, out of all people. Don’t think that I don’t know my rights. Don’t think that I don’t know what I should stand for. And I would have proudly gone to jail tonight for my community. Because they don’t deserve to be put in a predicament where they have to worry every night or every day or every waking second of their life whether they’re going to end up in jail.”

On Thursday a man approached the gate of the encampment claiming to be a representative from the City of providence and told those inside that they were all to be forcibly evicted at 9am on Friday. On Friday, no attempt was made by city officials to vacate the encampment, and UpriseRI confirmed with the Providence Mayor’s office that the man was not, to the best of their knowledge, a city official.

“Apparently the person just wanted to be an asshole,” said Almonte. “If they were real they would have presented themselves a little bit more professionally.”

“Have you heard from anyone else, or any city officials?” asked UpriseRI.

“No,” said Almonte. “I would like to say one thing on record. Councillor Harris needs to make promises she can actually keep. I am very disappointed in her and I trusted in her until she gave me a reason not to trust her. I am willing to work with people if they’re going to help my community. She should never have said that we were her people and then disappointed us the way that she did.”

On Wednesday, in response to complaints from neighbors, Councilmember Mary Kay Harris was at the garden encampment and she promised to reach out to organizations and people she knew to help those inside, said Almonte.

“She has my contact information,” said Almonte. “She could have dropped a line saying that she’s still working o get us the services that we need, and not bullshit services like Crossroads or Family Services – the only one she mentioned that was worthwhile was House of Hope.”

“I sympathize,” said an officer, unsympathetically, as he continued to rattle tents and demand identification from the occupants. “I really do, but everybody here has warrants.

“Who’s the boss of this motley crew?” asked the officer. “Who’s running this organization?”

UpriseRI asked Almonte about the demeanor of the police as they conducted their warrantless search of people’s property and dwellings. Specifically, UpriseRI asked about the police reaction to being filmed.

“Very aggressively, like I was doing something wrong,” responded Almonte. “They can record us, so why can’t I record them?”

It is in fact completely legal to record the police.

“How did the search make you feel,” asked UpriseRI

“I feel like I did something empowering today by standing up for my community,” said Almonte. “I feel like I’m the Hispanic version of Martin Luther King. I feel very empowered. I feel that I’m standing up for something that matters to me. I’m not backing down from it. I don’t care if that means I have to deal with cop brutality and have a few bruises on me because I’d probably take that for any of these members of my community.

“And that’s what being a good leader is to me – It’s being able to know when to stand up and when to bow down. The first time I dealt with it cordially but this time I’m not. I have to be a ballbuster because nobody else is going to do it if I don’t do it. And these people have a lot to risk. They have their freedom to risk and I would willingly give up my freedom to have these people have a better future and for my kids to have a better future.”

“They just scared the shit out of me,” said one of the residents in another video as the police rousted him from his sleep inside his tent.

“I thought we could stay here,” said a woman.

“No, no one owns this,” said someone. “We’re not going to kick you out of here.”

“You people are squatting on private property,” said an officer.

“Do you have a complaint from the property owner?” asked someone.

“No we don’t,” admitted the officer.

“If you don’t have a complaint from the property owner I’m going to have to insist that you desist in harassing us.”

“You have to provide an identification. Anyone here does,” responded the officer. “If you are harboring people with bench warrants, narcotics used in the open…”

Officers continue to rattle tents, shine lights inside, waking up and disturbing people in the encampment.

“If you don’t have a warrant or if you are not in hot pursuit of a suspect, I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” said someone.

“This is private property. I’m going to ask you to leave,” said the officer. “You’re going to find yourself in handcuffs very quickly.

“We’re not having a conversation,” continued the officer. “This conversation’s one sided. See you later.”

UpriseRI asked Almonte about the future of the encampment.

“This is not a permanent solution to our problem,” said Almonte. “It’s temporary. We need our government and Councilor Harris to take us seriously enough to make a difference. Either give us a lot that we can make into something more permanent for some of the residents, or put us in hotels, or give us an apartment. Some of us actually want an apartment.

“It’s not our fault the coronavirus happened. It’s not my fault my RV got burned down,” said Almonte, getting emotional. “I didn’t choose that…

“But give me the opportunity to prove myself as a human being. I 100 percent stand by my community. Sometimes you’ve got to take what you feel like you deserve – especially when society tells you that it’s wrong. I don’t see nothing wrong with this. It gives people a safe environment – without judgement.

“We started off as campers, but now we’re more a community,” continued Almonte. “This is my street family. Yeah, we have our petty squabbles, but nothing worse than what we hear coming from the houses of our neighbors.

“This is my guerrilla garden. It’s beautiful. We recycled stuff that was already here, like the truck bed, where we’re growing vegetables – lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers or zucchini – we’re still figuring that out. Either way they’re both yummy.

“This is more than just a community. This is a statement. This is the start of a new revolution, almost. This is us putting our feet down. You know, for the longest time I’ve studied Martin Luther King Jr and it’s like, you think about his ‘I Had a Dream’ speech and it’s like, dude, that’s what we’re fighting for today.

“There is never going to be equality until we put our foot down. It makes me cry – because I have two beautiful girls and one beautiful son and – Is this this what they’re going to have to endure because of the color of their skin?

“And it used to be Blacks against corporate America, now it’s like Blacks against their own people. Or Hispanics against their own people. When did this become a civil war within the community? It’s sad. I don’t even know how to express how I feel right now. It’s disappointing. My neighbors, my city council, my government, my own community is letting me down.

“When did the government stop being for the people? When did the cops stop being for the people? They’re going to end up being the butt of the joke, not us – when we get what we want and deserve. And that’s a home. Someplace to call home. At this point, a home is wherever you’re happy and can be with your family. I want my kids back. I want my life back. I feel like that’s been taken from me.

“I need to be the one to figure out what to do,” said Almonte. “That’s pretty much all I have to say…”

[Note: This story has been updated since Diumila Almonte decided to be known under her real name and no longer continue to use the Matilda pseudonym.]

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