PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Rhode Island lawmakers gathered in front of the State House Thursday, calling for change following the death of George Floyd.
Floyd died in police custody after a Minneapolis officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes while he was handcuffed and pleading that he couldn’t breathe. The incident was caught on video and has sparked protests, some violent, across the country.
Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence, was joined by nearly three dozen other state lawmakers as she called for monumental changes to Rhode Island’s court systems and law enforcement.
“Our judicial system, it lacks diversity,” Williams said.
Williams said officers must be held accountable for their actions, and those who are not serving and protecting Rhode Islanders should be removed. She also called for the creation of a community task force that would oversee the implementation of these changes, and for the state to raise the 10% quota for minority businesses applying for state contracts to 25% — a number more indicative of the diversity of the state.
“Body cameras are a must … implement a three strikes and you’re out [rule],” Williams said.
She also called upon Gov. Gina Raimondo to change her “one-size-fits-all” plan to reopen the state’s economy, adding that minority-owned small businesses are taking a major hit.
Dozens of community members listened to Williams and applauded her calls for change, but several pointed out that no matter how many people band together, the absence of the governor at their gathering leaves them feeling alone in this fight for justice.
“It’s very disheartening,” Providence resident Amanda Toussaint said of Raimondo’s absence. “It took that [the violence in Providence] for our governor to speak out on George Floyd and Black Lives Matter.”
Another Providence resident, Jona Pierce, called upon the governor to, “come outside, stop hiding and listen to people.”
“The ball is in your court,” Pierce said.
A spokesperson for Raimondo said she was in an important meeting Thursday morning regarding the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and could not attend. She does, however, plan to attend a vigil being held by the Ministers Alliance and the Rhode Island State Council of Churches Thursday evening.
“The governor believes that now is the time for all ideas to be heard, and she looks forward to continuing to work with Chair Williams to advance the cause of racial justice in Rhode Island,” the spokesperson said in a statement.