The RI Mobilization Committee sponsored an interesting array of speakers Wednesday night at the Beneficent Church in downtown Providence centered around the theme of Civil Rights. First up was Iman Ikram Ul-Haq, from Masjid Al-islam mosque, North Smithfield, who talked about Islamophobia. The Iman made some interesting observations about the recent attacks in Norway and the rush to judgement by the media in identifying the attacker as a Muslim terrorist when in fact the man was a white Christian militant. The audience in attendance split during the question and answer session over the idea of free speech. Some felt that free speech includes the right not to be offended, but others maintained that offensive speech needs to be protected. The Iman was very courteous but personally I feel that he should have given more thought as to how to confront Islamophobia in a constructive way.
Next up was Onna Moniz-John, of the NAACP and the Urban League, a tireless advocate for the elimination of racial profiling. She related her ongoing struggle to deal with this issue legislatively, and her disappointment that a bill in the recent legislative session was scuttled at the behest of the police chiefs from the various RI communities. (One of many disappointing outcomes in the latest session.) Racial profiling exists, and needs to be dealt with, and Ms. Moniz-John offered us a real route towards dealing with this problem. She is a very affecting speaker.
Next up was Will Lambek of the Olneyville Neighborhood Association and Marlon Cifuentes, talking about Secure Communities, an Orwellian-named government program that puts people from south of the border on the fast track to deportation without any hint of due process. This program had been ostensibly instituted to deal with the very worst violent offenders, but in practice has been used as a means by which to deport anyone for any reason. Efforts to dissociate states from this program have been successful in some states, including New York, but Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and Governor Lincoln Chafee have both ignored requests to meet on this issue.
Last to speak was John Prince of DARE, who spoke about the Prison Industrial Complex, and his own dealings with it. After serving more than his fair share of time for his youthful indiscretions, Prince has become a tireless fighter for prison reform. I feel that the way a society treats its prisoners is the metric by which the society should be judged. On this count, the United States is not doing so well.
One of the eeriest things revealed this night is how all these various problems are related in such a way as to lead a person of color directly from his malfunctioning school directly into the Prison Industrial Complex. A person may be racially profiled, pulled over, arrested on some pretense, run through the court system, and wind up in jail, beginning a life cycle that may result in years of incarceration. It was pointed out by an audience member that the privatization of prisons and the continuance of the failed war on drugs has created a real profit motive to continue the failing schools and the building of more prisons.
Over all it was a very informative evening of refreshing and positive activism within our community. There is much to be done, and I came away feeling that though the situation is dire, it is far from hopeless if we continue to work on these issues.