Police officers in Providence, Rhode Island escalated a June 29 neighborhood dispute on Sayles Street, violently arresting four young people and brutalizing five other children. The children’s ages range from 1 to 15, and a 21-year-old woman was also arrested.
The children and young woman were beaten with batons, pepper sprayed, and thrown to the ground. Several children, including one with asthma, were held in the back of a police truck on a 90+ degree day. The cops locked them in for an entire hour. Officers laughed as the youths pounded on the walls of the van and pleaded for air and medical attention for the pepper spray that they had not been allowed to wash off their faces.
The families on Sayles Street are still demanding accountability and justice.
Police brutalize children and call them ‘animals’
“The Providence Police came because of an altercation with neighbors [that] already had stopped. [The police] lined up like we were getting ready to go for war,” Taffii Moore said at a press conference. Moore is the mother of several of the children who were assaulted. “We were standing on our property line. We weren’t involving nobody when [the police] attacked us. They attacked our children. They attacked everybody that was in this home. If you were recording, they attacked.”
Taffii’s son, daughter, and nephew were all assaulted by police. Zyrray Moore — Taffii’s daughter — was punched in the face, and an officer pressed his foot on her neck.
The body camera footage of the incident was only released after community pressure. It exposed the police making racist and sexist remarks to each other about the families at Sayles. The police called the kids “juveniles” and “animals.” A white officer described the argument between the neighbors as “the Spanish against the Blacks,” and called Zyrray Moore a “she-male.” An officer can be clearly seen ripping off his body cam.
Local government defends police violence
Government officials have played down the police riot, and said the police were justified in their actions.
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Police Chief Hugh Clements, and Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré held a press conference to comment on the assault on Sayles Street. When asked about the officers “losing their tempers” Clements said “I don’t think it’s a pattern.” He also said, “Our officers are human and they get mad sometimes.”
Three officers were disciplined as a result of the incident. But the officers only received short suspensions or administrative leave, due only to their comments caught on camera rather than their brutality. A GoFundMe for the police involved raised $20,000 before it was removed by the site.
Mayor uses community violence to justify more policing
The Mayor and other government officials are using an increase of gun deaths in Providence to justify pouring even more money into the police. $2.8 million will be spent on a new police barracks which will be used to add 50 more officers to the force.
Elorza recently said he would consider bringing in Rhode Island State Police to “help” with the rise of violent crime in Providence. “We need all the help and all the resources,” he said. “We are never going to turn that down.” State Police were used in the summer of 2020 to violently suppress the uprisings in Providence after the murder of George Floyd.
If funding isn’t flowing to the police themselves, it goes to nonprofits such as the Nonviolence Institute. The Behind The Walls Committee wrote an open letter to the Institute in June criticizing its collaboration with police and misuse of the $500,000 it received from Brown University and the Rhode Island Foundation.
The money was awarded after the May 13 Carolina Avenue shooting, the largest shooting in Providence history. None of the families of the nine victims from that night have received money for legal or medical expenses. Behind The Walls protested the Institute’s discriminatory policy that refused to give the families money because the incident was gang-related.
A history of police violence
Mainstream media outlets like the Providence Journal have written about what might be a “hot summer” due to the high number of gun deaths in the city this year. The violence they refuse to highlight is that of the police against working people.
Thirty-four-year-old Joseph Ventre died in police custody in May of this year. Two more children of color were severely beaten by police the week of July 12. Jhamal Gonsalves was hit by a Providence Police cruiser while driving his moped in October of 2020. The crash put Gonsalves in a coma and sparked public outrage and protests.
Yet the media narrative supports increased police funding.
The people of Providence demand: defund the police!
The broader Providence community has been organizing against both the violence and funding of police. During the uprisings against the police last summer, a clear demand was raised: defund the police by 70%.
At a July 1 press conference, Taffii Moore laid out the demands of the Sayles Street families: fire the cops who instigated the violence, defund the police, and repeal the notorious Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
Two days later, over 150 people attended a defund the police rally held outside the building that houses the Providence Public Safety Complex and the Providence Police Station. The event was hosted by Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC. BLM RI PAC’s Chief of Staff, Kimika Ross, said “We do not need police in our communities.”
Throughout the event, speakers pointed out that funding for affordable housing, social services, and mental health counseling would better serve the community than the police.
The fight continues
The Moore family has been repeatedly targeted since speaking out, including racist online harassment, death threats and a smear campaign by right-wing media. Cars stalk the house and throw bottles and insults out their windows as they drive by. Bushes outside the Moore home were set on fire June 21. Taffii Moore’s husband, Raymond Lee, was placed on paid administrative leave from his job with no explanation.
The brutal assault of children on Sayles Street is part of a larger pattern of police violence and not an exception. The incident shows the brutality of the Providence Police, their eagerness to instigate violence, and their racist and sexist attitudes towards working class people. They describe working class people as violent when they were the ones who beat and maced children unprovoked, and locked them in a hot van.
The mainstream media and the government are spinning a narrative to justify more police on the streets. But the Providence community knows this doesn’t work.
“I reached out to my community. That’s all that I can reach out to is my community.” Taffii Moore said at a press conference. “I can’t reach out to the police because the police don’t wanna hear it… they stated that they hate coming to this house so why would I wanna call them and tell them anything.”
She also described how the community has organized to support her family. “I’m no longer afraid and I’m no longer going to be afraid… I have people that’s been coming out and helping watch my house, helping watch my kids, and making sure that we are alright.”