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White Elected Officials in RI Have No Comment on Ferguson, NY Protests

Monday, December 08, 2014


While prominent elected officials and community leaders of color have weighed in on the the grand jury decisions in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY, white elected officials in Rhode Island have remained silent.  

When asked for comment on the response to police officers not being indicted in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner -- and the subsequent reaction in Rhode Island which has seen a number of protests to date ranging from the peaceful to the civil disobedient -- only Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, Mayor-elect Jorge Elorza, and Secretary of State-elect Nellie Gorbea commented on the national events which have had major local implications.

None of the Congressional delegation - Senator Jack Reed, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Representative Jim Langevin, Representative David Cicilline -- or Governor Lincoln Chafee, Governor-elect Gina Raimondo, Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts, Lt. Governor Dan McKee, Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, General Treasurer-elect Seth Magaziner, or Attorney General Peter Kilmartin responded to request for comment on the reaction -- and protests -- in Rhode Island to the lack of indictments in the two high profile cases.  

"The Lt. Governor-elect will not comment on these matters," said McKee campaign spokesperson Mike Trainor.  

Community activist and founder of Night Vision Kobi Dennis said that he was "livid" at the lack of response.  

"They are public servants that represent the people whom elected them to office.  Politicians seem to have this proverbial "short term memory switch" which is turned on and off at their convenance," said Dennis.  "During the elections they would of been calling the media to put out a statement, while proclaiming "equality."

Rebecca Nieves McGoldrick helped organize the "March Against Police VIolence in Solidarity with Ferguson and Mexico" in Providence on December 1 - prior to the Staten Island decision in the Eric Garner case -- which saw several hundred protestors march from Burnside Park to the State House.

"In my opinion, I don't think they can afford to stay silent on this issue. Much of the anger, pain, and frustration people are feeling is in part because of the lack of support our elected officials show for affected communities," said McGoldrick.  "People feel like they don't have a voice and they aren't represented, which is why people are building a movement to build power."

Leaders on the Record

A photo from the "March Against Police VIolence in Solidarity with Ferguson and Mexico" in Providence earlier this month.

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras spoke to the need to strengthen ties between police and minority communities -- but that the city would be strict in its enforcement of peaceful protests under his watch.  

"I extend my deepest condolences to the families of both Michael Brown and Eric Garner for their loss. I share the concerns of many around the country – unarmed individuals should not be dying during police encounters. These cases are tragedies and signal that there is more work to be done to strengthen the ties between law enforcement and our minority communities," said Taveras.  

"In Providence we will continue to respect every citizen's First Amendment right to peacefully protest. However, peaceful protest does not include blocking interstate highway traffic or endangering the lives of protesters and motorists. We encourage all those who want to express their concerns to do so in a safe and peaceful manner," continued Taveras. 

Mayor-elect Jorge Elorza said that he is committed to rebuilding trust between police and the community.  

"The events in Ferguson and Staten Island were tragic, and my heart goes out to the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the entire communities that surround them. I understand the grief and concern that so many in our city and country are feeling in the wake of these decisions," said Elorza.  "As Mayor, I am committed to doing everything in my power to ensure that each of our residents is treated fairly under the law, and I will work every day to strengthen and rebuild the trust between the community and the police." 

The only statewide official who responded to request for comment, Secretary of State-elect Nellie Gorbea will be the first Hisapanic to be a statewide officeholder in New England when she takes office in January.  

"I am deeply saddened by the tragedies in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY.  As a mother my heart goes out to their families for their losses. Although our country has made significant progress toward achieving racial equality, I am disheartened by these events and reminded that we still have a way to go," said Gorbea.  

"I strongly support the Justice Department's decision to launch federal investigations into the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.  These incidents have started a national conversation," continued Gorbea.  "I hope that Rhode Islanders will express their concerns with restraint and through expressions of nonviolence. Let's not let anger get in the way restoring trust and faith between law enforcement and the communities they serve."

Organizers Looking for Answers

Providence police at a recent protest.

McGoldrick noted that even if those elected officials who haven't weighed in spoke up, that "talk is cheap."

"I don't think their silence is viewed as neutral. It can only be interpreted as implicit acceptance of the status quo. And even expressions of verbal support aren't going to cut it," said McGoldrick. "Talk is cheap--especially in politics, so it's going to take real action working to address these injustices to get support from these communities."

Jim Vincent with the NAACP Providence Branch said that it was "ironic" that only non-white elected officials responded to questions on the national cases -- and unrest in Rhode Island.  

"What's interesting, if you've noticed, nearly the majority of demonstrators in Providence have been white," said Vincent.  "It's inspiring to see all folks turning out in support, and it's resonating with people other than yourself, that there's a hope of a change."

As for the lack of response from white officials, Vincent said, "Part of it is, they might not have spent a lot of time thinking about it."

"They don't have to think about it, it's not their world," continued Vincent.  "They don't live in our shoes -- but they do live in our world. There's only one world."


Related Slideshow: Police Militarization - Department by Department Breakdown

Below are those fifteen local police departments that have obtained military supplies, listed from least to most items acquired. The list does not include acquisition records for certain tactical weapons and supplies for which the Pentagon has refused to release department-specific data. (In those instances only county-level data has been released. That data is not included below.) Records are for recent acquisitions going back to 2009 and were obtained from the Defense Logistics Agency.

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Items Purchased: 3

Summary of Equipment: Dump truck (1 unit), Snow plow plade (1 unit), Truck and tractor attachments (1 unit)

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West Warwick

Items Purchased: 5

Summary of Equipment: Shotgun barrel (1 unit), Immersion suit (1 unit, can be used for underwater operations)

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East Providence

Items Purchased: 10

Summary of Equipment: Radio sets (4 units), Miscellaneous vehicle parts (6 total units)

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Items Purchased: 12

Summary of Equipment: M84 charging handle (8 units, is part of a rifle)

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Items Purchased: 15

Summary of Equipment: Small arms sling swivel (10 units), Optical reflex units (5 units)

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Items Purchased: 17

Summary of Equipment: Digital computer systems (3 units), Flat panel monitors (10 units)

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Items Purchased: 43

Summary of Equipment: Binoculars (5 units), Ballistic protective spectacles (25 units), Sight mount (5 units)

Photo credit: Stanislas PERRIN

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Items Purchased: 49

Summary of Equipment: Armor Plate (1 unit), Survival vest pocksts (30 units)

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Items Purchased: 70

Summary of Equipment: High capacity rifle magazines (12 units), Ammunition-carrying vests (4 units), Ballistic protective spectacles (20 units)

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North Kingstown

Items Purchased: 72

Summary of Equipment: High capacity rifle magazines (27 units), Small arms storage rack (5 units), Satellite systems navigation set (4 units)

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East Greenwich

Items Purchased: 99

Summary of Equipment: Binoculars (10 units), Ballistic and laser protective spectacles (53 units), Ballistic protective spectables (30 unites)

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Items Purchased: 100

Summary of Equipment: High capacity rifle magazines (100 units)

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Items Purchased: 257

Summary of Equipment: Ballistic and laser protective spectacles (6 units), Rifle bipods (10 units), Field pack (10 units, designed for clothing rations, and additional items like ammunition), Passenger motor vehicles (3 units)

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Items Purchased: 1,604

Summary of Equipment: HMMWV (Humvee) M1165 Assembly Kit (2 units), Gun magazines (432 units), Night vision face masks (8 units), Gun silencers (54), Small arms sight mounts (6 units)

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Items Purchased: 2,389

Summary of Equipment: Armor plates (30 units), Demolition firing device (1 unit), Improvised Explosive Device training it (9 units), High capacity rifle magazines (599 units), Chemical protective suit (1 unit), High-speed tractor (1 unit), Diesel generators (2 units), Flat panel monitors (21 units)


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