Providence, R.I., Cambodian community fights police brutality

By on January 24, 2013

Providence, R.I. — Led by youth organizers from the Cambodian community in Providence, R.I., more than 200 protesters rallied and held a spirited night march on Jan. 17 to protest a violent police raid that brutalized a 77-year-old Cambodian woman and her 13-year-old grandson in their home.

During the Jan. 8 raid in the West End neighborhood, one woman was dragged from her bathroom, mocked and videotaped by Providence police. The youth was dragged out of bed. Everyone in the home was handcuffed and held at gunpoint.

Marchers chanted, “No, no, PPD [Providence Police Department]; stop police brutality!” as they moved up Hanover Street in the direction of the PPD Headquarters. The entire organization and security for the march were provided by youth leaders from the Cambodian community and by PrYSM (Providence Youth Student Movement), with support from the Providence People’s Assembly and other solidarity leaders.

In just a few days following the raid, the community gathered 1,000 signatures on a petition demanding that the charges against members of the family be dropped and an apology issued to the family. The unprecedented community fightback followed years of police harassment, deportations and racial profiling of Cambodian youth, many of whom are entered into a police “gang database.”

The march ended in a rally at PPD Headquarters. PrYSM organizer Yin Lam, 14, told the crowd: “The police harass us. Is it the way we look, our color! People feel like they are being followed. My aunt, grandmother and cousin were raided! We will not accept this!”

PrYSM, which has been carrying on a 10-year struggle against the Providence police, states on its website: “Our primary aim is to fight for social justice in the Southeast Asian community, but it is under the context and challenge of rampant systemic violence that often paralyzes the community. One form of violence in the community is state violence and the criminalization of Southeast Asian youth.” (prysm.us)

The organization defines criminalization as “a term that embodies the collective and collateral effect of failing social welfare institutions (such as education, where some Providence high schools have a 50 percent dropout rate) and increasingly harsh and punitive law enforcement practices (such as mandatory minimums and mandatory deportations). Many of our youth are faced with racial profiling in schools, on the streets, and in shopping centers on a daily basis. The majority of our membership have brothers, sisters, and parents who are incarcerated, deported or facing deportation, or who have been victims of police brutality.”

Organizers vowed to carry on the fight to end police raids, racial profiling and deportations.

Mary Kay Harris and Bill Bateman contributed to this article.

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