The Providence City Hall Council Chamber was packed over capacity. The crowd was so raucous and loud it was hard to hear the speakers on their microphones.
“I Sabina Matos, would like to pass the Community Safety Act.”
Voice after voice pledged their support for the Community Safety Act.
“I, Seth Yurdin, would like to pass the Community Safety Act.”
“I, Sam Zurier, would like to pass the Community Safety Act.”
The Community Safety Act (CSA) passed unanimously. Not a single voice spoke against it. The City Council Chamber erupted in cheers and applause.
It was a brilliant moment.
But the Providence City Council never actually voted. Minutes before the City Council was to begin their meeting, their last meeting before taking a break for vacation, hundreds of protesters in support of Black Lives Matter had crossed the street from Kennedy Plaza and entered the chamber en masse. They took the seats of city councillors and acted out what passing the CSA might look like.
The CSA never passed. It has only recently been scheduled for consideration, when the City Council comes back in September.
As the crowd filed out of the chamber, Nick Katkevich of the FANG Collective asked a just arriving City Councillor Seth Yurdin if he would really support the CSA when the time came.
“I don’t support the CSA,” said Yurdin.
Neither does Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza or Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré.
Fifteen minutes earlier crowds gathered at Kennedy Plaza, across the street from City Hall. The Movement for Black Lives had called a nationwide, July 21 Collective Action for Freedom, in response to the recent slew of high profile police killings. In Providence, the action was organized by the Step Up Coalition to Pass the Community Safety Act and the White Noise Collective RI around the idea of supporting the CSA.
The proposed Providence ordinance has 12 key points pertaining to police interactions with community members, including providing interpretation, documenting traffic stops in a standardized manner, and limiting police collaboration with other law enforcement agencies such as ICE. The CSA would also reestablish the Providence External Review Authority (PERA) with the power to recommend that Public Safety and Police Department budgets be reapportioned to youth recreation and job training programs.
“We don’t want to compromise on the safety of our community. When you have women dying in jail because they didn’t use a turn signal or youth being shot in cold blood for having toy guns in an open carry state, we can’t compromise,” said Community Safety Act Campaign Coordinator, Vanessa Flores-Maldonado. “We need police accountability now because no one feels safe in our community.”
The campaign recently scored a win when organizers secured a public hearing for the CSA at the beginning of September. The “mock hearing” was organized to put additional pressure on the City Council to pass the CSA.
At the mock hearing, Flores -Maldonado spoke directly to the city council members present, including Council President Luis Aponte, saying that the city council should listen to what the people had to say.
The protest left city hall and marched up Washington St towards the Providence Public Safety Complex, where people gave a series of speeches in support of the CSA, hiring more teachers of color, community defense, and abolishing the police. Here the speeches were in turn thoughtful and emotional. I would recommend them to those seeking a better understanding of these issues.
After leaving the public safety complex the march continued on to Cathedral Square, where there was some last words before the march disbanded.