Policing

In response to Sayles Street incident, activists rally in the rain to defund police, remove SROs, repeal LEOBoR, and more

“I don’t see what road we take to make [the police] change,” said Justice Ameer Gaines, the Queer Justice Coordinator at Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM). “What I do know is that during my time in Providence, the most effective strategy has been disruption. If they can’t respect our dignity, then we don’t need to respect their comfort, we don’t need to respect their meetings, we don’t need to respect their offices, we don’t need to respect their professionalism, we don’t need to respect their processes, and we don’t need to respect their policies – They need to change them.”
Photo for In response to Sayles Street incident, activists rally in the rain to defund police, remove SROs, repeal LEOBoR, and more

Published on July 4, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist and Will James

Well over 150 people gathered outside the Providence Public Safety Complex on Saturday, in the pouring rain, in response to police actions on Sayles Street on Tuesday that resulted in police pepper spraying, beating and arresting children. Organized by the Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC, activists and politicians gathered to demand that the police be held accountable, and that the police department be defunded.

For context, see:

UpriseRI reporter Will James had the livestream:

At a press conference on Friday morning Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré told reporters that he doesn’t know what “defund the police” means. On Saturday, BLM RI PAC Executive Director Harrison Tuttle answered that question.

Defund the police – reallocation of funds – continues to be brought up and there are some people who don’t understand what that means,” said Tuttle. “Defunding the police means being able to reallocate resources to areas that have been deprived for over 100 years in our community.

“It does not mean anarchy. It does not mean an unlawful society. In fact, it means the opposite,” continued Tuttle. “It means being able to address the poverty ridden areas in our neighborhoods that have been suffering because of the lack of resources. It means fixing our schools so we don’t have SROs [School Resource Officers] in our schools that create a school to prison pipeline. And despite multiple calls for the removal of SROs, our Governor and our Mayor still refuse to be for our students and our community.

“And the ultimate hypocrisy is for them to come on two days ago and say that they are for mental health resources, when you refuse, Mayor, to remove SROs from our schools? I call bullshit on that,” said Tuttle. “As I mentioned before, defunding the police does not mean anarchy. It means the exact opposite. It means that our kids aren’t pepper sprayed, it means that kids aren’t shot in the arm by off-duty cops that are in fact SROs…”

“You did nothing wrong,” said Justice Ameer Gaines, the Queer Justice Coordinator at Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM) to the children, parents and young people who were pepper sprayed, beaten and arrested by police on Tuesday on Sayles Street. “And you probably already know that, but in case you ever have a doubt about whether you did something wrong, know that nothing you could have done should have taken that response from our police.

“I don’t see what road we take to make [the police] change,” continued Gaines. “What I do know is that during my time in Providence, the most effective strategy has been disruption. If they can’t respect our dignity, then we don’t need to respect their comfort, we don’t need to respect their meetings, we don’t need to respect their offices, we don’t need to respect their professionalism, we don’t need to respect their processes, and we don’t need to respect their policies – They need to change them.

“So my call for you today is to start making these white spaces really uncomfortable,” said Gaines. “Fuck their Roberts Rule of Orders until they start giving our people the resources that we need to make sure our youth [and] our elders are taken care of.

“Instead of letting these politicians have fundraisers, maybe we need to show up and raise some hell,” continued Gaines. “What I’m asking is that we stop pretending that we can break a racist system by following racist rules. And I’m not calling for anything violent. But I am asking for a disruption of the peace because until they give us justice, we need to make sure they don’t get comfortable any more – Because it seems that they are way too comfortable standing behind a microphone telling us that pepper spray is an effective tactic to deescalate a situation…

“I’m sick of being out here and having to scream my compassion into a mic, just so that they can pretend to care. It’s time that we continue to disrupt their comfort until they show us that they do.”

“This has been without a doubt one of the most stressful weeks in terms of police violence happening in the backyards here in Providence, Rhode Island because time and time again Providence Police continue to demonstrate and show us, without shame, that they do not care for our communities, they have no compassion for the people that live here -especially those with Black and brown skin,” said State Representative David Morales (Democrat, District 7, Providence).

“I’m tired of demanding accountability, that unfortunately is very hard to imagine will ever happen, because of the broken systems that we have in place because of the systems that allow for racist police officers to roam the streets and attack our lives, attack our people as if our lives were a game to play with.

“So let the record show that the Providence Police called us animals. Let the record show that the Providence Police sprayed our youth and then proceeded to assault working people of color in their neighborhood. Let the record show that the Providence Police officials held a press conference yesterday where they defended their use of pepper spray on youth and argued that they were in the right of the law and following policy when it came to the physical beatings that they had vulnerable people experience. Let the record show that the Providence Police are trying to hide behind their badge – behind the privileges of a broken system and laws that protect them while still trying to criminalize the victims of police brutality…”

BLM RI PAC Executive Director Harrison Tuttle took a moment to call out the racism and harassment emanating from conservative social media and people in the media such as John DePetro, calling it “disgusting.”

“I’m sick and tired of white supremacists coming on our spaces … come out and call us liars, call us jerks, threatening our lives, it’s ridiculous. It needs to stop. And I would expect,” continued Tuttle, pointing to the Providence Public Safety Complex behind him, “the people who say ‘we’re going to protect everybody’ to address it. But we all know that they’re not. You want to know why? Because police protect white supremacy and the white power structure. That’s why…”

The next speaker, Grayson Rose, is an LGBTQ+ activist and the new, official photographer for the BLM RI PAC.

Rose told the emotional story of having a police officer point a gun to his face when he was a small child because his mother was dating ” a very bad person.” His mother was kicked in the face for pleading, “Please don’t hurt my baby,” said Rose.

“This shit is still happening,” said Rose. “Another police officer, three days ago, kneeled on a young woman’s neck after calling her a shemale. Are you fucking kidding me? A one-year old, a four-year old and a five-year old were pepper sprayed?

“There is no excuse.”

“We do not need police in our communities,” said Kimika Ross, BLM RI PAC’s Chief of Staff. “When we call for defunding, we mean take funds away from you and give it to us. Our students need better schools. We need access to health care. Those kids are now traumatized. Are you going to now pay for their fucking healthcare? Are you going to pay for them to go see a therapist, so that don’t have to feel, every day of their lives, frightened? I think not!”

“What happened after historic protests, after thousands and thousands of Rhode Islanders marching in the streets? What our government did was basically nothing,” said State Senator Samuel Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence). “We have to take action. We have to pass Senator [Tiara] Mack‘s bill to repeal the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights [LEOBoR]. Not reform it, not tweak it, we need to repeal it.”

Senator Bell called on Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza to fire Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré, Chief Hugh Clements and to clean out the entire top brass of the Providence Police.

Vanessa Flores-Maldonado, Co-Executive Director of PrYSM, had three things to say.

  1. “White people, I need you all to stop taking the mic. If you are not directly impacted by this, step back.”
  2. “This work has been happening for so long. It’s not just last year. This is decades and decades of work.”
  3. “For all of you supposedly good cops – Quit your jobs!”

“I am here today because Black Lives Matter,” said State Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence). “I am here because brown lives matter. I am here because poor people’s lives matter.

“It is not okay for police to beat up young children, old people, anybody,” continued Representative Ranglin-Vassell. “Thank you all of you for coming here. Thank you all because all of you had a choice where you could be, but we chose to be here today, because this is important to our community and Black Lives Matter.”

Representative Ranglin_vassell told the crowd that the power was in their hands. “You can hold your elected official accountable,” she said. “And if they don’t do what you say and I include myself in this, I give you permission to vote us all out!

“What I saw on the video is not okay. It’s reprehensible. What I saw win the video brought tears to hey eyes. And I’m telling you – If I was their mom and I was there – I would be in jail,” continued Ranglin-Vassell. “We can not train cops that are racists. You just can’t train them. So what do we need to do with racist cops? We need to fire racist cops.”

“We keep saying we need to vote these people out we need to get involved in electoral politics – but I’m ready to bun this motherfucker down,” said community activist and public school teacher Enrique Sanchez, Political Director of the BLM RI PAC. “People are tired. I’m tired. I’m tired of seeing Black and brown people hurt all the time.”

Besides the incident on Sayles Street, Sanchez noted that this week the Rhode Island Attorney General brought charges against an off-duty Pawtucket Police Officer who shot at three young men in West Greenwich and a Providence police officer was charged with shoplifting in Warwick.

“We can’t talk about getting involved in electoral politics, we can’t talk about voting people out, we can’t talk about reform when this shit is happening in our communities,” said Sanchez. Referring to the Providence Public Safety Complex, Sanchez said, “This place, this entire building here, and I don’t care. This needs to come down ASAP.”

“I need to remind people that Black people did not get the right to vote by voting,” said Justice Ameer Gaines, returning to the mic. “We did not get our right to participate in democracy by participating in democracy. We had to demand it. We had to fight for it. We had to take it.”

Gaines had a message for every politician who took the mic, and every politician who speaks at such events throughout the coming year:

“I want to see your plans to disrupt the State House. And I’m not talking with legislation. I want to see your direct action. I want to see when the sit ins are going to happen. I want to see when you’re going to ask us to some in there with you to hold the buildings. I want to see real shit from you all!”

Ruth is a social worker in the Providence Public Schools system. Comparing the newness and beauty of the Providence Public Safety Complex to the state of disrepair of Providence Public School buildings, Ruth asked, “Do you know what message that gives to the kids of what they’re worth in these buildings that should be condemned?

“When people say we need the police for crisis intervention and deescalation – I’ve been a social worker in this state for 14 years – I’ve stood between a man who is suicidal, trying to get the police to shoot him, and was able to deescalate and get that man onto an ambulance without anyone being injured. I’ve gotten in between domestic violence situations, parents beating their kids, people who were actively psychotic and intoxicated and you want to know how many times I’ve ever been injured on the job? None.

“Social workers can do this. We have the training to do this. We have the empathy, the compassion to do this,” continued Ruth. “And I’m held accountable by the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Rhode Island Department of Education to not step out of line. And I have to have a Master’s Degree and do continuing education every year. And I’m sure I make a lot less than [police officers] do…

“How can we help? How can we assist? Defund the police. Get rid of the SROs. I don’t want them there. My students are terrified of the police,” said Ruth. I hear little kids discussing their terror of police. It’s the boogyman for them. So no, we don’t need police to respond to violent crime and arrest their way out of problems…”

Harrison Tuttle, wrapped things up leading the crowd in a a Black Lives Matter chant.

Vanessa Flores-Maldonando
Representative David Morales
Representative Marcia Ranglin_Vassell
Enrique Sanchez

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