State Representative Ray Hull (D-6, Providence, North Providence) has today sent a letter to Mayor Jorge Elorza calling on him to establish a director-level liaison with the city’s significant African-American community to serve as a point of contact and address concerns of racial disparities and unequal treatment.
Hull issued the call in response to a continuing series of national incidents demonstrating troubling treatment of communities of color by local police departments and a new report by the Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU which found significant differences in how black Rhode Islanders are treated from childhood to adulthood. A police sergeant and 28-year veteran of the Providence Police Department, Hull said that when the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation himself is expressing concern about the manner in which some police officials respond with excessive force to incidents involving people of color, Providence needs to recognize the situation and take action.
“The City of Providence has a unique opportunity to get in front of this situation and send a strong message that it is taking steps to confront racism and discrimination, while ensuring fair treatment for all its citizens,” said Hull. “I have seen people of color, and in particular African-American citizens, feel intimidated and be treated poorly by authority figures, including the police, and I have witnessed the insensitivity some members of the department have shown in dealing with the city’s African-American community.”
Hull added, “The FBI Director made a powerful speech earlier this month about race and police bias, pointedly addressing the difficult and often fractured relationship between local police departments and African-American communities. The new administration has a chance to tackle this head on and lead the way in promoting a healthy dialogue that produces positive outcomes for the city.”
In 2014, well-publicized incidents of police violence in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York, led to the deaths of two African-Americans, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and sparked nation-wide protests. And Hull pointed to another pair of incidents in 2015, which have raised further concerns about the manner in which police respond to situations involving people of color. In Pasco, Washington, three police officers shot a Hispanic man after he had initially run away from them and then turned around with his hands in the air. In Madison, Alabama, a 57-year old grandfather, with limited English proficiency, was visiting his family from India and was violently thrown to the ground by police and left partially paralyzed after they responded to a 911 call expressing concern about a “skinny black man” walking down the street in broad daylight.
Police departments everywhere, particularly in our inner cities, need to be better trained so that they are more effectively equipped to communicate with and respond to minority populations, including people with limited English proficiency.
Hull said that earlier protests surrounding police violence which led to the shutting down of local highways disturbed him, especially when protestors admitted to putting themselves in harm’s way through their actions, but refused to recognize the manner in which their actions were endangering others. However, he said that lack of empathy and inability to look beyond one’s own actions and consider the larger good, may be the result of the damage that occurs when people feel they have no voice and no one fighting for their concerns.
Hull concluded, “We have a chance to change that and I hope Mayor Elorza will recognize the good he can do by addressing this situation and conveying to the African-American community in Providence that their concerns will be taken seriously in City Hall.”