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Never Again is Now: eye witness from the Rhode Island ICE protest

August 19, 2019

On August 14, protesters with Never Again Action,a Jewish group formed in the past two months, and Amor, a Rhode Island-based immigrant rights group, picketed outside the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island. The facility has contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the protest was one of several across the US calling for the end of ICE detention. 

Also that night, a corrections officer who worked at the private prisondrove his pick-up truck into a group of demonstrators. After a video of the incident was widely circulated the officer was put on administrative leave and then resigned. What follows is an eyewitness account of the events by Providence, Rhode Island resident Maurice Methot.

Pepper spray. Who here has been pepper sprayed? Pepper spray is an amazing crowd dispersant – I can attest to that. Last night my wife and I took part in a mass rally in Central Falls RI. The goal was to shut down the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, where ICE incarcerates innocent victims of the vile and racist Monstrosity-in-Chief.  

The Wyatt Detention Center is a for-profit prison in Central Falls, a working class RI city just north of Providence with a large Latino community. Off main street is a lovely soccer field and playground. Directly across is the detention center, an enormous eight-story cement block brutalism. It is surrounded by layers upon layers of gleaming razor wire.  A large sign on the gate announces prison guard job openings. 

I stare up at multiple floors of small fogged-up slotted windows.  I see people inside. Some hold up signs, waving to attract our attention. Each window seems to have at least three inmates. Some are turning lights on and off, others are waving. They begin to make messages in block script scribbled onto what looks like a paper towel. It’s hard to read them, but someone with better eyesight tells me what they say: “help” “no food”. 

The Wyatt Detention Center has been in business for a while. Not every prisoner is an incarcerated immigrant. But lately the facility has contracted with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house immigrants “rounded up” in raids.  The sheer perversity of a system – capitalism – that can make an industry of imprisonment! Isn't it obvious that such an industry must actively promote criminality to remain in business?

So we are gathered five-hundred strong in Central Falls to decry this abomination. To shut it down ostensibly, or at least be arrested in the process.  Here is what happened:

A guard was at the wheel

The morning after the protest there appears on my “morning mix” web feed the following from the Washington Post:

“A truck drove into ICE protestors outside a private prison. They say a guard was at the wheel.”

The headline is a relatively accurate description of what I too saw with my own eyes. A black pickup truck suddenly appeared, swerved into the parking lot at high speed (endangering protesters and pedestrians) and drove directly into a large crowd of people. He stopped momentarily, then lurched forward again at high speed into the crowd who were at this point in panic and terror, trying to leap out of the way of the truck. I saw a girl hurt, on the ground. 

The truck then stopped and as the crowd scattered to help people who had fallen someone began the chant “the whole world is watching… the whole world is watching…” The crowd at that point was gathered around the truck yelling at the driver “shame…shame…” Suddenly a large cloud of intense pepper spray was released into the crowd. It went directly into people’s eyes and many required medical attention. It even affected the correctional officers / ICE agents who suddenly appeared and eventually created a barrier across the entrance of the parking lot, allowing the truck to pass through.

No effort was made by either the RI State Police or the Central Falls Police to apprehend the driver who had attempted vehicular homicide and reckless endangerment.

There is visual evidence that the driver of the vehicle had coordinated this forced entrance with the correctional staff. There are gigabytes of footage of the entire incident from multiple perspectives – cellphone cameras were rolling and the internet is abuzz with video of the uniformed driver – an ICE agent – in the truck on a phone or walkie-talkie,  just before the pepper spray stunned the crowd.

It is significant because, while lately it seems a daily commonplace to read that ICE agents are using pepper spray to spray “ICE detainees”, it is one of the first instances of ICE agents using it on American citizens exercising the right to protest, as state and local authorities idly stand by.

Since the local and state police seemed to have been told, for all intents and purposes, to stand down, it suggests that ICE is in fact an armed federal presence which can arbitrarily take precedence over local law enforcement, and which can violate state and federal law with impunity and total disregard.  

How do you know you will not be among the next roundup of ICE detainees?

If you’ve ever wondered how normal Germans could have lived day-to-day knowing what was going on in the concentration camps, just look around you now. There is nothing so perverse as the normalization of the abyss. But this is what happens, in small ways very day. The local media is certainly is a good place to begin to see the normalization process in action.

For example, the RI Channel 12 Local News aired direct line-of-sight eyewitness footage shot by one of the protestors on a cell phone. It clearly shows the black pickup ramming the crowd. In a live voiceover, the RI Channel 12 Local News newsperson reports:

“As you can see in this video taken by one of the protesters, the truck had to drive into that crowd… uh… blocking the entrance to that parking lot soon after several of the protesters were hit with pepper spray. “

Incredibly, the newsperson is suggesting that the driver’s need to enter the parking lot somehow supersedes the safety of the protesters, and that the protesters were the problem. And so it goes that in the minds of thousands of local viewers reality is blurred, the dullness of thought-control takes hold,  the edges of truth are worn down more, false connections are made, certain prejudices reinforced.

This thought-laziness is permission for all manner of evil.  We are the media, in an echo chamber obliviously indifferent to an increasing variety of depravity and social injustice, and susceptible to and complicit with all manner of reality distortion. But always there is the truth of the event itself, which is something I can say because I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. My perspective is not de-naturalized by language, representation, or mass media.

Those who were not there, who witness this attack only as a mediated event, will complete it according to the principles of the theatre of their own beliefs. The reality bubble begins at the local level and expands into the wider spectrum of the social information loop autonomously, like breathing.


For more information about Never Again Action, see:

And for Amor Rhode Island, see:

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