“For so long, for over a year, we’ve been hit with so much tragedy, so much loss, so much hurt, so much pain, so much anguish, and I really hope today heals your hearts,” said Zainabou Thiam founder of Silence is Violence: 401, speaking to a crowd of over 90 people in Woonsocket’s Market Square. Around her was an array of photographs of people from both Woonsocket and across the United States who lost their lives to hate crimes, domestic violence, police brutality, and gun violence.
The “Village Vigil” was organized in collaboration with WATCH Coalition, Silence Is Violence: 401, Wide Awakes PVD, BLM-RI PAC, and other community partners. Jaliyah Joseph served as emcee.
“Today’s vigil is to spread peace,” continued Thiam. “There’s been so many protests, so many riots – but today I hope that we spread love, spread peace. We’re here for each other…
“We’re going to continue to fight. We’re going to continue to support each other. We’re going to continue to show out love, show up for out people, our community, our family…”
Alyssa Allen, from Community Care Alliance (CCA) in Woonsocket with a message about accessing help for a mental health or substance use emergency in Woonsocket. Calling 235-7120 allows people to access a social worker, with or without a police officer depending on the circumstances, to provide 24/7 help.
“Research has shown that mental health and substance use concerns responded to by a social worker have resulted in less arrests and less jail time served,” said Allen, “and I personally believe that this service at CCA is crucial for the Woonsocket community.”
Bonnie Piekarski from the Boys and Girls Club Northern Rhode Island Woonsocket Campus asked the crowd to imagine a better world.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” said Nwando Ofokansi from the WATCH Coalition. “Our village has been failing. If a child has a gun we have to ask ourselves where they got it from. If a child has drugs, we have to ask ourselves where they got them from. Our adults in the community are responsible for keeping our young people safe so when they suffer the consequences of our failures, we have to step up…”
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“I am here tonight as a lifelong resident of Woonsocket saying to you all that we need to come together,” said Kimberly Demers, the Director of Community Services at the Blackstone Valley Advocacy Center, a domestic violence agency new to covering Woonsocket. “If you think you know someone experiencing domestic violence, ask them if they’re okay. Let them know you’re there for them.”
Former Woonsocket City Councilperson Alexander Kithes brought a strong critique to the elected officials of Woonsocket, including Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, who wants to use the Covid relief funds from the federal government to build “a public safety complex, which is code for a glorified police station, instead of investing in our community.”
“We need to build power and we need to transform our community,” said Kithes. “We need you to run for office or get involved with local or state campaigns of people who actually give a damn. And we need you out in the streets making noise and making the establishment uncomfortable enough that they’re forced to respond to our demands for justice.”
Black Lives Matter forces uncomfortable conversations, said Harrison Tuttle, executive director of the BLM RI PAC. “It’s only when you’re uncomfortable that you’re willing to grow – you’re willing to take the next steps.”
Police violence is not the only way in which BIPOC people are killed, noted Tuttle. “We have the very quick kill with the police, but there’s the aspect of poverty. What does that look like? That looks like mental health issues.That looks like not being able to feed your kid.”
“That looks like where I live,” said a woman in the crowd.
“We’re trying to fight not only racism, but also poverty, inequality and classism that creates racism,” said Enrique Sanchez an organizer with Wide Awakes PVD and BLM RI PAC.
Tammy’s sister Tanya was murdered in 2020 in a “cowardly act of domestic murder-suicide.” Since then Tammy has founded a group in her sister’s name and worked to help support people escaping domestic violence.
Bonnie Piekarski with some words from a grandmother about her now deceased grandson:
People in the crowd were invited up to speak:
“The kids in this city, the kids statewide, the kids nationally – I can say this because I am one – They are out in the streets. They have access to guns. They have access to drugs. They are in gangs because they want the feeling of love and brotherhood,” said community activist Jaliyah Joseph. “And then they wind up dead. They wind up dead whether they are shot by one of their peers, whether they killed themselves, of whether they died from an overdose…
“As a kid I am coming to all of you because I see a lot of adults in the audience. We need you. We are dying. We are hurting. The kids in this community are hurting…”