Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Woonsocket North Smithfield 06-04-2020

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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16 THE VALLEY JUNE 4-10, 2020 | VALLEY BREEZE | NORTH SMITHFIELD BLACKSTONE WOONSOCKET EDITION cials have said this week's riots were coordinated by outside groups and were not related to organized protests over the death of George Floyd. The situation stoked fears among business owners, many of whom were just returning to work after months of closures due to COVID- 19. Emily Laramee, owner of The Art Den on Main Street, wrote on Facebook Tuesday night she had only reopened for one day when she was forced to close her doors again due to threats of looting. "Here I am, again, emptying my studio as much as possible to be safe against looters and rioting," she said. "I have worked my fingers to the bone to make a thriving busi- ness. I put everything on the line." In a statement released Tuesday, police said they supported peace- ful protests but would not tolerate lawless behavior threatening public safety officials, residents and busi- nesses. Lemoine said they would continue to monitor the situation in the days ahead. At the same time, several city residents are planning peaceful protests in response to the killing of George Floyd and actions by the police officers involved. Three local students are planning to hold a "Silence is Violence" event some time in the next few weeks at World War II Veterans Memorial Park. Zainabou Thiam, 14, said that she and her co-organizers, Jaliyah Joseph and Daishanay Francis, hoped to organize a youth-led event featuring performances by local singers and artists. "It should be youth-run," she said. "Because often in Woonsocket, the students are always getting in trouble, the teachers kind of look at them as bad kids, and it's not fair because I know these Woonsocket kids. They're my friends, and I know that they could do better as long as someone pushed them." Thiam said she and her co- organizers are working closely with police to plan a peaceful event. She encouraged participants to bring blankets and masks and spread out on the grass during the perfor- mances. The event, she said, will include tributes to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and others who stood out in the fight against racism and will hopefully help humanize the relationship between residents and police. "The problem in America is not the police. It's the racism. Because I feel you are a human before you are your racism," she said. A second group, the Woonsocket Alliance to Champion Hope, or WATCH Coalition, also planned an event this week in response to the killing. In a statement released on Tuesday, the group said their Wednesday evening rally in Market Square was an opportunity "to voice our concerns and to show Woonsocket's Black residents that their lives matter." "We want to be clear: this is not a call for violence. This is a rally against violence. We will be ending sharply at 7:30pm and want every- one to get back home safely," the group said. The group has called on police to issue a statement in response to the killing of George Floyd. On Tuesday evening, in their state- ment urging residents to stay home, the Woonsocket Public Safety Department condemned the actions of the officers involved. "The Woonsocket Police Department believes in the fair and impartial treatment of all its citizens and visitors alike," the department said. "Woonsocket Police officers do not use or authorize proce- dures or tactics to induce unconscious- ness as a compliance technique within the response to resis- tance continuum." According to Nwando Ofokansi, a member of the WATCH Coalition, the group formed in response to concerns about the treatment of people of color by Woonsocket police. In their statement, members said the city's black community has experience harassment by officers within the department and made attempts to have conversations with police. Other members of the community weighed in on the issue this week, some highlighting the different responses to protests around the country. Thomas Gray, vice-chair- man of the city's MLK Community Committee, said that while the African-American community is united in thinking that the killing has to stop, some people disagree on the approach. Many young peo- ple, he said, have taken the view that they're not going to be the gen- eration to kneel and take punches or have water hoses sprayed on them as in peaceful protests of past years. "This younger generation is say- ing we're tired, we're sick of it, we're tired of being hit, we're tired of being discriminated against, and we are going to fight back," he said. Gray said the challenge of his generation is to make young people realize that violence only make things worst and it takes bringing people together at the table to cre- ate lasting change. That was the approach he took in the 90s when, as president of the Woonsocket chapter of the NAACP, he helped coordinate a multi-day workshop between police and members of the African-American community. At the time, he said, there were sharp tensions between African- American males and city officers, and the workshop helped ease misunderstand- ings. Today, Gray said he thinks the relationship between the commu- nity and police has improved and feels city officials are more willing to listen to the African-American community. But just because you don't hear of issues, he added, doesn't mean they don't exist. The Rev. Jeffrey C. Thomas, pas- tor of Saint James Baptist Church, also spoke out this week, making a statement about George Floyd's death during a virtual service held last Sunday, May 31. Speaking to the congregation, he questioned how many black men must die before the country holds law enforcement officers accountable for those in their ranks who "per- petuate extreme recklessness often resulting in murder." "There's a copy and paste func- tion on our computer keyboard," he said. "You highlight a particu- lar phrase like 'black man killed by white police,' you hit the copy function, and then hit shift and the phrase is duplicated. In the United States, you would have to hit shift over and over and over and over and over again until you're back to slave history to show the number of murders." Noting the day was set aside to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, Thomas said he prays that the Holy Spirit will inhabit those charged to serve and protect. "I pray that more of the people of the population of the United States would be united in demanding that living while black would no longer be a crime," he said. 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