Candidate for RI Senate target of racist messages during online forum

West Bay

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Jennifer Rourke, a Democratic candidate for the Rhode Island Senate, did not expect to be the target of racist comments during a virtual town hall forum Thursday night.

“Personally, I’m numb,” she said.

Rourke, an African-American woman challenging Senate Majority Leader Mike McCaffrey this November, said the comments came from eight people watching the town hall and were sent repeatedly throughout the forum.

She said she was frustrated she spent most of her time reading racist expletives than answering political questions, and while the messages upset Rourke, one message, in particular, left her speechless.

“Get Lynched, and then lynched, lynched, lynched,” Rourke said. “I have never in my life had anyone ever say that to me and they did.”

The racist comments come as the nation grapples with the deadly arrest of George Floyd, an African-American man who died in police custody after a Minneapolis officer kneeled on his neck. That officer has since been fired and charged with murder.

Floyd’s death has sparked outrage across the country, leading to violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond.

RI leaders condemn actions of Minneapolis officers »

Rourke said simply discussing racism isn’t enough, and more has to be done.

“We do the peaceful protests people complain and when there are the angry protests people complain,” she said. “What are we going to do to make sure that we don’t need to protest anymore?”

During her daily coronavirus briefing, Gov. Gina Raimondo was asked about the racist comments directed at Rourke. She had one message for those eight viewers.

“Stop it, it is wrong and none of us can tolerate it,” she said.

Rourke hopes that speaking out will make others realize that racism exists everywhere, including in Rhode Island.

“I need you to understand that I get treated differently because of the way my skin is,” Rourke said. “I don’t have the privilege, you have the privilege and I need you to use your privilege to uplift people like me.”

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