In searing summer heat, a 10-person delegation from the Rhode Island Peoples Assembly traveled from Providence to the Narragansett Nation, near what is now called the town of Charlestown, to present a framed message of solidarity to Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas, First Councilman Randy Noka, and other Narragansett tribal leaders at their event marking the 10th anniversary of the Smoke Shop Raid of 2003.
On July 14, 2003, Rhode Island state troopers invaded the land of the sovereign Narragansett Nation on orders of then-Gov. Donald Carcieri for the purpose of shutting down their newly opened Smoke Shop.
As captured on video for the world to see, 51 members of the R.I. State Police attacked tribal police, leaders and elders at the site, including Chief Sachem Thomas. Despite being outnumbered four to one, the Narragansett tribal leaders put up a valiant struggle until overwhelmed by superior numbers.
The Narragansetts suffered injuries, including broken bones, and the indignity of being publicly attacked and arrested on their own land. In a pattern all too familiar to people of color in the U.S., the resisting victims were then charged with crimes.
The R.I. Peoples Assembly’s framed statement was read aloud and presented to Chief Sachem Thomas in front of the 50 gathered supporters and the media. It reads, in part:
“All justice-loving people in Rhode Island, around the country, and around the world were outraged to see Tribal Council members and Chief Sachem Thomas suffer blows, broken bones, and the indignity of arrest at the hands of the R.I. State Police.
“The R.I. Peoples Assembly is comprised of all peoples: Black, Latin, Native, Asian and white. We believe in and fight for the equality of all people. We wish to express our sincere solidarity with the Narragansett People and Nation and we affirm your right to your land and self-determination.”
Thomas, Noka and others expressed their deep appreciation to the R.I. Peoples Assembly, raising up the relations between the Assembly and the Narragansetts to a new historic level. That will begin with the Narragansetts’ promise of participation in the August “Day of the Dream” march and program in Providence commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington.