“One of the shows I was able to watch over the past year, during the pandemic, was When They See Us,” said Marcus Robinson to the 70 people gathered on the Peacedale Rotary at the intersection of Kingstown Road and High Street in South Kingstown. Robinson grew up in South Kingstown. “It was a documentary about the Central Park Five. These young men were accused of a crime and 20 years later, they’re just getting their names back. They’re just getting their names cleared.
“And now we have a similar situation here. We have the South Kingstown Four, and we do not want them to become the Central Park Five,” continued Robinson. “So before their names get completely tarnished – we’ve seen the situation where names get put in the paper and people are convicted in the court of public opinion. We want change. We want new processes. We want justice and we want everyone to have a fair shot.”
Robinson was speaking at a vigil for three young Black men, ages 18-19 and one teenage boy, a minor, who were arrested in South Kingstown in March on sexual assault charges. Family and friends were horrified to see news reports featuring the faces and names of the accused in media reports of the arrests, even before many had seen their lawyer.
“Everyone deserves a fair shot in life,” said Ginger Mombelly a young woman speaking at the vigil. “I think it’s really important we come together, especially now, as a community.”
While no one knows exactly what happened, and what crimes, if any, may have been committed, many in South Kingstown are concerned about whether the accused, and the young woman at the center of the case, can access justice. Black youth are over five times more likely to be detained compared to white youth according to 2015 Department of Justice data. We also know that Black youth are four times more likely than white youth to be incarcerated.
“I remember seeing the article and feeling this disgust that we would put out the face of these young kids. They are kids,” said South Kingstown School Committee member Sarah Markey to the crowd. “I have a 16 year old son… I think about them everyday. I know many of you are friends and family. And the moms, I hold you in my heart because I think what’s happening right now is nowhere near justice – it doesn’t help repair any of the harm that’s happening, to any of the five young people involved.”
“While we accompany the families on their path to justice, let’s be conscious and courteous of the words that we speak into existence,” said Jennifer Robinson. “Believe in the power of your words. Be a blessing. Be a friend. Be encouraging. Let your words be healing, and not deepen the wound.”
The crowd held a candlelight vigil and a moment of silence before the last speaker, Eve Mombelly, addressed the crowd.
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“We all want to help healing to happen,” said Mombelly. “For there to be justice and repair of the harm that has been caused. First we need to see these young people returned home to their family for the boys to beat the odds of being a Black man in the justice system and get a fair shot in our legal system.”
Mombelly referred those in attendance to South Kingstown Care & Justice, a Facebook page started to support the young men.