In the wake of a truck-ramming attack on a group of Jewish protesters outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Rhode Island last week, the protesters are demanding state action to shut down the private prison.
In a press conference in front of the Rhode Island state legislature on Tuesday, elected officials and activists called for the release of all migrants held at the facility and for the closure of all private prisons in Rhode Island.
“It isn’t about us,” said Sam Goldberg, a 17-year-old from Providence who participated in the protest. “If this is what they do outside of the facility with peaceful protesters, imagine what they do to those inside.”
The press conference was held in response to events at a Never Again Action protest at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, R.I. Several hours into the protest, Thomas Woodworth, a correctional officer at the Wyatt facility drove his truck into a line of protesters who were blocking the facility’s parking lot. Several people were injured by the officer and by other officers who subsequently sprayed the protesters with pepper spray. One protestor suffered a broken leg and internal bleeding.
The press conference was organized by Never Again Action, a coalition of Jewish activists that was founded earlier this summer to oppose ICE. Since June, the coalition has held over 30 actions in more than 20 states and several hundred protesters have been arrested, according to organizers. The protests, part of a rising wave of Jewish activism around immigration as the crisis at the border intensifies, have generally targeted ICE, the immigration and customs enforcement agency tasked with detaining and deporting undocumented migrants.
“The violence of this system is not about one individual,” said Aaron Regunberg, a former Rhode Island state representative who participated in the protest. “We need to shut down this institution that is inflicting violence on so many of our neighbors.”
Rhode Island’s attorney general said that his office, in coordination with the state police, would investigate the incident. On Friday, Woodworth resigned.
“It was really chaotic, really scary. People were really confused about what was happening,” Gemma Sack, one of the protesters who saw the truck hit the protesters, told the Jewish Week.
A video of the protest posted to Twitter on Wednesday night shows a pickup truck driving into protesters who had formed a line with linked arms to block the facility’s parking lot. The video is punctuated by screams as the truck drives into the crowd and protesters begin chanting, “The whole world is watching.”
The incident happened just two days after the anniversary of the death of Heather Heyer, an activist who was killed by a driver while protesting a right-wing demonstration in Charlottesville in 2017.
“We cannot wait till tomorrow, we cannot wait till it’s too late,” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. “When we say never again, we mean never again.”