Racial justice, RI's budget and political moves

The Cranston Herald ·

The challenge facing any social movement is converting activism into change. So it will take time to assess the impact of the mass movement that formed in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police almost two weeks ago. Yet the potential exists for some serious change to the status quo, as evidenced by the broad support for steps to oppose racism and reduce social inequity. “We got to come with an action plan,” Brother Gary Dantzler of the Black Lives Matter RI said during a Statehouse news conference last week, hours before a demonstration organized by young activists. The presser revealed mutual appreciation between Dantzler and Gov. Gina Raimondo, who said they’ve been quietly working together for years. The governor called on white people to check themselves. “Even those of us who work to end racism,” she said, “our experience of racism is an observed experience, it’s not a lived experience.” The governor said she’s counting on young activists “to hold us all accountable” in Rhode Island. “They’re impatient and God bless them for their impatience because we’re out of time, and it is time to take action.”


On the General Assembly front, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has advised his members that he expects the full legislature to return the week of June 15-19. “We will be considering a revised supplemental budget and very limited business,” Ruggerio wrote in an email. “It is important that we enact a supplemental to address the serious budget gap in the current fiscal year, and that will give us flexibility to await clarity from the federal government on what additional assistance they may provide, and/or whether restrictions on current aid may be loosened. I firmly believe it would be extremely unfair to all Rhode Island residents and businesses to proceed on an FY2021 budget without additional clarity on federal aid. Any FY2021 budget bill enacted without this aid would be devastating.”


The Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights has long been viewed as an obstacle to effective management of bad behavior by police. Back in 2015, Steve Frias, the RI GOP National Committeeman, offered this observation as part of an op-ed in the ProJo:LEOBOR should be repealed. At a minimum, police officers charged with misconduct should not be paid and given benefits while suspended from their jobs. Suspension with pay is an incentive to pursue delay. Also, police officers should not be judged in secret by a panel made up of only fellow police officers. Only a few states with LEOBOR laws require disciplinary panels to be made up exclusively of police officers.” Now, state Rep. Anastasia Williams (D-Providence) has put LEOBOR back on the agenda, describing an overhaul of the measure as part of what is needed to reduce racism in the state. “Get it to my desk,” Gov. Raimondo said last Friday, noting how changes would need to come through legislation. The wild card remains House Speaker Nicolas Mattiello, who remained non-committal when asked about this at Williams’ news conference, and Senate President Ruggerio.


A dispatch from honorary Rhode Islander Devin “Short Pants” Driscoll, who led President Obama’s RI campaign in 2012, and now calls Minneapolis home: “For the past ten days, Katie and I have turned on the evening news and seen harrowing images of a nation gripped by anger and fear, sadness and frustration. The event that sparked the marches, the vigils, and the calls to action – the killing by police of George Floyd – happened in our community. The Minneapolis Police Third Precinct, which was burned to the ground on the third night of protests, is less than a mile away from the Church of St. Albert the Great, where we were married and our son, Jack, was baptized. At a press conference in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, Gov. Tim Walz listed rankings in which Minnesota sits near the top: best place to live, to raise a family, to find work. This is all true, he said, but only if you’re white. Many of our neighbors who are black, indigenous, and people of color live a life in the North Star State that would be unrecognizable to those of us who are able to live what Time Magazine once called ‘The Good Life in Minnesota.’ We have the worst achievement gap in educational outcomes in the nation. The Twin Cities are deeply segregated because of a long history of housing discrimination. And police violence is a regular feature of the lives of black Minnesotans. In 1968, the federal Kerner Commission acknowledged that white America created, maintained, and condoned ‘two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.’ This warning went unheeded. For too long systems of oppression and injustice have poisoned the places we live in and love – the Twin Cities; Minnesota; Rhode Island; the United States. A reckoning is at hand. We must now seize this moment and work together to rebuild – without the systemic racism that pervades our lives. I don’t have the answers; but I will listen, I will learn, and I will try to do better.”


Maria Bucci, a Democratic candidate for mayor in Cranston, has staffed up with a roster of political talent: Erich Haslehurst, Jamie Rhodes, George Zainyeh, Kate Coyne-McCoyand Wally Gernt. Her Democrat opponent, Steve Stycos responded by vowing to make Cranston a more just community.


It’s not every week that the Ethics Commission throws out a staff recommendation and potentially pave the way for a well-known lawmaker to win a nomination to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. Whether Sen. Erin Lynch Prata (D-Warwick), the departing chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will actually get nominated remains unknown for now. (Gov. Raimondo, under pressure to name a person of color, vowed this week to pick the best candidate after getting a list from the Judicial Nominating Commission). Lynch previously made her case for why the revolving door should not apply to her. But from a PR perspective, the Ethics Commission is taking it on the chin. John Marion, executive director of Common Cause of RI, said the group was “sickened” by what happened with the 5-2 vote: “A majority of the Commission members ignored the staff’s sound legal interpretation of the Code of Ethics in order to give a pass through the revolving door to Senator Lynch Prata. In doing so the Commissioners ignored the plain meaning of the law and turned their back on both legal precedent, and a thirty year fight to end backroom deals and establish an independent judiciary for our state.” And this from RI GOP Chairwoman Sue Cienki: “For the Ethics Commission to override its own staff, there must have been a great deal of behind the scenes pressure from the State House. The Ethics Commission sent a message today. Lynch is a cinch for the Supreme Court. Sitting judges should not seek the appointment. Qualified persons of color should not bother applying. Despite all the civil unrest in our country, Governor Raimondo will not even consider appointing a person of color to the Supreme Court. She has already made a deal to appoint a State House politician.”


Dylan Zelazo, director of administration in Pawtucket, is contemplating running for a citywide council position in Cranston. In a letter seeking the support of Democratic city ward committee chairs, he wrote in part: “The 2020 Election is about our future as a city. With two young sons, my wife and I are very focused on the future of our public schools. We want to see a greater priority placed on collaboration with the Cranston School Department to make our schools even better for the next generation. It’s time to invest in our future as a community, and that starts with education. Other priorities that are at the forefront of my conversations with neighbors throughout Cranston include infrastructure investment, economic development, and public safety. Our infrastructure is in real need of reinvestment so that our residents and businesses have what they need in order to have the best quality of life and business climate possible.”

Ian Donnis is the political reporter for The Public’s Radio, Rhode Island’s NPR member station. Listen at 89.3 FM or visit

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