Protesters demand an end to prison deaths and torture in Rhode Island

Providence, Rhode Island

“What we did yesterday taught us that nothing is impossible. After all, what seemed impossible yesterday, was possible today. So, nothing will seem impossible tomorrow.” — Fidel Castro

“Too many people in the U.S. support death and destruction without being aware of it. They indirectly support the killing of our people without ever having to look at the corpses.” — Assata Shakur

“To win we have got to wear down our oppressors, little by little, and at the same time, strengthen our forces, slowly but surely.” — Assata Shakur

Protest against deaths in Adult Correctional Institution, Providence, Rhode Island, Sept. 8, 2023. WW Photo: mYia X

Under the calm of the sunset and cool breezes in Providence, Rhode Island, attendees gathered for the 2023 PVDFest, an arts festival, on Sept. 8. At approximately 7:30 p.m., the rallying chant “No justice! No peace!” loudly reverberated, coming through the bullhorns and voices of protesters. They marched across the scenic Michael Van Leesten Memorial Bridge in unison to defiantly fight back, protesting the seven recent deaths at the Adult Correctional Institution (ACI). 

The ACI, located in Cranston, consists of seven prison buildings on the grounds of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections and has an operational capacity of 3,854 people.

The marchers represented Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) and the Behind the Walls committee, alongside community and family members, allies and activists from Rhode Island-Massachusetts Solidarity With Incarcerated Workers (SWI), the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Workers World Party. They were led by a banner emblazoned with a message: “The sound of the people pounding on the doors for help at the ACI.” 

Seven wooden coffins, along with cardboard headstones and photos, displayed the names of the deceased, as banners and placards were hoisted to visibly expose the deaths by medical neglect, torture and rampant disregard for the lives of those incarcerated at the ACI. The grief, loss, rage and revolutionary fervor were palpable as the militant protesters seized ground in the midst of the outside venue, directly in view of attendees, bystanders, police officers and the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC Providence).

Solar candles were strategically placed around the coffins as the names of the seven deceased were called out by the protesters. Joe Benton, a minister and member of Behind the Walls, opened with prayer and stated the reasons for the protest: “This year seven incarcerated people died. In the last two months, two died. … Four of them committed suicide after being in segregation for long periods. So right now, we want Governor Dan McKee to respond to the bodies before us.” 

Various speakers, including Brandon Robinson of Stop the Torture Coalition, pointedly gave remarks regarding the conditions inside the ACI, as well as the lack of investigations into the deaths, torture and medical neglect faced by those incarcerated.

Providence mayor confronted

Across the street, inside the CIC, Providence Mayor Brett Smiley Jr. was confronted by protesters who attended the ticketed gathering taking place there. This strategic and coordinated direct action was held to voice the stories of the deceased at the ACI and demand accountability from the state. 

Meanwhile, the coffins and headstones were once again hoisted and maneuvered through the crowd as the protesters outside headed toward the performance stage area to distribute informational flyers to the public. The portable speaker continuously blasted the sounds of the incarcerated banging on the cells inside the ACI. An artist performing on the stage, moved by the demonstration, paused and declaratively encouraged the audience to listen to what the protesters were saying and take their flyers.

With bullhorns in hands and surrounded by police officers, the procession advanced militantly across the street to solidify the group’s presence with those who were inside the CIC. They explicitly demanded action from Gov. Daniel McKee.

As the demonstration culminated, mYia X of WWP and SWI shared words of solidarity and remembrance of the Attica Uprising that happened 52 years ago on Sept. 9, 1971. She read an excerpt of the fiery rallying cry, “What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed!” spoken by Eliot “LD” Barkley, one of the 29 Attica martyrs. mYia X bridged it with, “The sound of the people pounding on the doors for help at the ACI,” calling for these words to be a reminder cemented across the U.S. and around the globe that, “We must continue the struggle to abolish this system because it cannot be reformed!” 

The people united will never be defeated!!

The protestors from DARE, along with their allies and activists, concluded by chanting, “We’ll be back!” 

In the days following, members from DARE were able to disrupt and confront Gov. McKee during a public meeting of his Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force. For a detailed report, go to tinyurl.com/pny4uymw.

From Sept. 27-29, Brown University will host a symposium, Voices of Mass Incarceration, featuring Pam Africa, Julia Wright, Johanna Fernandez and the exhibition “Mumia Abu Jamal: A Portrait of Mass Incarceration.” (tinyurl.com/2p8wvhnd)

mYia X

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