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RI POLITICS

While remembering George Floyd, R.I. activists and lawmakers call for repeal of LEOBOR

“Justice is Black people not dying at the hands of police,” said Harrison Tuttle, executive director of the BLM RI PAC

Harrison Tuttle, executive director of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC, addresses the crowd at the Rhode Island State House during an event to mark the one year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2021 in Providence, Rhode Island.Matthew Healey/Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

PROVIDENCE — The wind whipped as Kiah Bryant’s bowed her head down for a moment of silence at the bottom steps of the Rhode Island State House Tuesday night. Wearing a black face mask that read “STOP EVICTIONS,” she listened to fellow activists discuss George Floyd, a Black man who was killed exactly a year ago by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

Last year, Bryant, the managing director of Direct Action for Rights and Equality, heard lawmakers in Rhode Island make promises that they would take steps toward racial justice. But a year later, she watched as many of those promises never translated into meaningful action.

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“At this point, it’s looking very intentional,” Bryant said in an interview.

Just one year ago, nine minute and 29 seconds of video was made public, showing Floyd dying as then-police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck. Chauvin has since been convicted of murder and manslaughter charges, but over the last year, that case has triggered protests worldwide and calls for systemic change in public policy.

Joyce Wise, former executive director of the Black Lives Matter Rhode Island Political Action Committee, which organized the event that gathered more than 40 people Tuesday night, recalled watching the video.

“I was literally watching a video of a man being assassinated. George Floyd could have easily been me, or my sons,” said Wise. “Blacks are being slaughtered at an alarming rate. And state and local governments aren’t doing enough.”

Democratic State Senator Tiara Mack addresses the crowd at the Rhode Island State House during an event to mark the one year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd.Matthew Healey/Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

Senator Tiara Mack, a Providence Democrat, said “This past year has been marked by more Black death. It’s hard to shift focus to just one situation.”

It’s been also almost a year since state Representative Anastasia Williams, a Providence Democrat, introduced a bill that would overhaul the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, or LEOBOR, which is the law that dictates how departments around the state are able to handle police officer misconduct.

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Harrison Tuttle, executive director of the BLM RI PAC, called for the repeal of LEOBOR and said, “Justice is Black people not dying at the hands of police.”

Some critics say the law currently shields bad cops from the consequences of their misconduct. And despite more than 100 people testifying for LEOBOR last year, it has not yet moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Folks in the State House and at City Hall, they are stalling progress. They aren’t creating change for us. It’s so blatant that it’s hard to ignore,” said Bryant. “Kennedy Plaza doesn’t need to be updated. We don’t need fancy, expensive consultants to come in from out-of-state to tell us what we need. It’s a slap in the face.”

She pointed to the State House and added, “We’ve been marching here like every week, telling these people what they need to do.”

She said last year, there was a “lot of performative behavior” where it seemed like “everyone” had a Black Lives Matter sign in their window, or a flag in their yard. Yet, that support has not translated into policy on a statewide scale.

Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate Dr. Luis Daniel MuñozMatthew Healey/Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz, who is running for governor in 2022, referenced a Rhode Island attorney that said last year, “Had George Floyd been killed in Rhode Island, Chauvin would have still been employed. Are we waiting for that? Is that really what Rhode Island wants?”

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Governor Dan McKee previously said that he would be open to changes in LEOBOR. He said in a press conference in late April, just hours before Chauvin was found guilty, that the law “probably” needed changes to make sure police who abuse their authority are held accountable. McKee did not mention any specific way in which he would change it at the time, but said, “I don’t see a problem with improving police work by creating a better accountability system.”

Others within the ranks, however, do support changes to LEOBOR, including Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare and Police Chief Col. Hugh Clements, which was previously reported by the Globe.

“Rhode Island is very reactionary,” Bryant said. “Sometimes it takes the worst thing so Rhode Island can see some amount of change happen. But without outrage, there’s no change.”



Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.