“We’re here for justice”

Tonight, I listened to a 15-year-old Cambodian boy describe how over the summer this year, he was stopped by an officer on his walk home for “hustling down the street with his hood up.” By the end of the episode that night, this minor, who was denied the right to call a parent or guardian, was asked what gang he represented, had every one of his pockets emptied and every part of his body searched, and had 6-7 cop cars and 9-11 cops surrounding him.

I heard this story at a city council public hearing. The hearing, two years in the making, was about the Community Safety Act, an ordinance that a group called the STEP UP Coalition has been working on since June 2014. The ordinance is designed to reform the way police interact with the people of Providence.  It’s described on the STEP UP Coalition’s website as “a comprehensive city ordinance to ban racial profiling and change the way that police interact with members of our community, especially young people, immigrants, and people of color.” The ordinance covers what rights a minor has, how the so-called “gang list” that police create is created and managed and appealed, what a cop can and cannot stop a person for, and so much more. You can read the full-text version here (with all the ordinance-speak), or a summary below or the same summary on the Community Safety Act’s website.

The public hearing was the first step in terms of getting in front of the city councilors — though, much to everyone’s chagrin at the meeting, several of the city councilor’s who said they “don’t like” the bill didn’t show up to hear what anyone had to say. The next step is getting a vote, and a vote that allows the Community Safety Act to be passed. 

At the public hearing, I sat in the back and tried to show my support with clapping, cheers and, simply, my presence. The stories I heard, like the one above, were heartbreaking.

Another woman spoke about how she’d discovered, after watching police film protesters on their personal phones at an event, that the Providence Police Department has no policy on how and why videos or photos can be taken of the public, or what should be done with those videos or photos once their taken.

Another man explained that he was videotaping, from the living room in his home, an interaction between some cops and an individuals outside his house. The officers came to his house and asked for his ID. Then the officers jumped over his fence and entered his house to confront him. “You’re going to tell me I feel safe around police?” he asked. “I don’t feel safe. We’re not here to just make some noise. We’re here for justice.”

One gentleman explained that in 2014, the community coalition for peace planned a protest against the Iraq War, which they opposed. When the state found out about it, they posted those protester’s names in a terrorist database, a fact that didn’t come out until later, act a law suit caused the information to come out.

Then there was a boy who went with a group of friend’s to a friend’s house. This friend happened to be on house arrest. While the group was there, a police officer tried to force his way in, and the boy on house arrest was made to call his mother to come home so the cop could be let it. The cop alleged that the boy and his friends were “known gang members” and the mother was forced to ask them to leave. That could have been it, but the officer followed the group outside and told them they had to stand against the house to get their picture taken. The boy in question refused, saying he was a minor, and it wasn’t allowed, but when the cop said that he either had to take the photo or he was going to arrest his friend, the boy complied. Then the cop revealed that all of the group were going to be added to the “gang database.” There was nothing anyone in the group could do to stop it.

There was a woman who talked about how, as she stood wrapped in a window curtain outside her house after calling the cops for domestic abuse, a cop who’d answered the call told her that was what she got for marrying a [racial slur]. And that same woman whose non-white five-year-old granddaughter made sure no one walked outside with their hoods over their heads because “they would get them.”

There was a social worker said that she and her colleagues had seen a rise in clients who had nightmares about police. Police killing them, hurting them, hunting them, killing their families. Or flashbacks about when police did those same things.

There were so many stories, one after another. Heart breaking, terrible stories told by some immensely brave and eloquent people who ranged all sexes and races, from student to ACLU rep to activist to politician to community member to reverend.

I sat in the back and I felt all of my privilege. It hit me hard. I’ve never been scared of police. I’ve always looked to them for help. I’ve found them annoying and, sure, maybe some were power-hungry, but when I’ve been pulled over for speeding tickets (and that’s happened twice in my life), I’ve been treated with compassion. I’ve never been scared to walk home alone at night because of what the police might do; in fact, I sometimes walk home ready to dial 911 to call the police in case something bad happens and I need help. My privilege is my sex (female), my skin (white), my neighborhood (upper-middle class).

That there are children and adults who live in the same city I do, just down the street, who are scared of the police, and for good reason, it breaks my heart. So, I’m writing this to show my support in the way I can, and to ask you, any of you who live in Providence, or did once, or will again, or who want to help let Providence know that people are watching what choice they make and what they do next, here’s how you can show your support:

  • Keep up to date with what’s happening on the Providence Community Safety Act’s Facebook page.
  • Call your Providence councilperson and tell them you support the orginance and want them to voice yes.
  • Call the Providence Mayor’s office at 401.421.2489. Or use their website contact page.

Here are the supporters they already have, but they need more. They need you!


The ordinance itself has twelve main parts, which are listed below (and lifted from the CSA website). If you believe in the spirit and the specifics of this ordinance, please, lend your support.

Prohibition on racial profiling and other forms of profiling

Police cannot use race, ethnicity, color, national origin, language, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, religion, physical or mental disability, or serious medical condition as a reason to suspect someone of a crime.

Standardized Encounter Form

Every time police stop someone, they must fill out a card with race, gender, and age of the person stopped; reason for the stop; if there was a search, and the results of the search; how long the stop lasted; results of the stop (ticket, arrest, nothing); and officer’s name and badge number. They must provide a copy of the form to the person who was stopped.

Video Recording by Police

For dashboard cameras, body cameras, and any other devices, recording must start as soon as the officer tells someone to stop, or arrives at the scene where a person is stopped, and recording continues until the stop is ended or that officer leaves. On duty police CANNOT use their personal phones to record anyone unless they are subject to the same policies as department cameras.

Video Recording by People

Police cannot interfere with, harass, or intimidate members of the public who are recording audio or video of police activity in any place that person has a legal right to be.   Any officer who violates this section may be subject to a fine of up to $5,000 and/or a jail term of up to 15 days.

Traffic Stops

Police have to tell the driver why s/he was stopped before they ask ask for any documents and can only ask for driver’s license, car registration and proof of insurance, unless they have probable cause of a criminal offense. Police can’t ask passengers for ID without probable cause of a criminal offense. If the only criminal charge is driving without a license, police cannot arrest the person; they can only give the person a summons to appear in court. Traffic violations are not enough to arrest someone.


Police cannot ask for consent to search a person, his or her car, or belongings without probable cause of some criminal activity. Police must ask the person what gender officer is appropriate to search the person. No canine (dog) searches allowed without probable cause of criminal activity.

Surveillance and Privacy

Providence Police cannot collect or store information about individuals or groups, or engage in electronic or physical surveillance, or undercover infiltration, without reasonable suspicion that the activities they are monitoring relate to criminal activity.

Privacy – Youth and Immigrants

Police cannot ask youth for proof of identification beyond name and address and cannot photograph juveniles (except as part of the booking process if the youth is charged with a crime or through the automatic cameras, like the ones used in police cars).  Police may not inquire about an individual’s immigration status, and any identification issued by a government outside the U.S. like a consular ID, foreign driver’s license, or passport, will be accepted the same as an ID from a U.S. government agency.

“Gang” list

Police must have a written, public list of criteria or factors before they mark someone as a “gang” member on any list or database. “Associating” with someone else on the list cannot be one of the factors.   If police put someone on the “gang list” they must send that person a form to appeal. If the person denies being a gang member, the accusation may not be shared with anyone else including schools, courts, or prosecutors. If the person is not convicted of any crime within two years , his or her name must be removed. Every year, Providence Police must produce a report with the total number of people on the “gang list,” and a breakdown by age, race, ethnicity, and gender, and the number of people who have appealed being put on the “gang list.”

Language access

The Police Department will create a language access hotline. Officers who don’t speak a person’s language fluently, may not question that person until a qualified interpreter is present. Police may not use family members, friends or bystanders as interpreters except in emergency. No Police Department employee may serve as interpreter during interrogation. Miranda Warnings, and all other important written materials, will be available to a person in her or his primary language. At each police building signs must be posted in the most commonly spoken languages stating that interpreters are available free of charge.

Collaboration with other law enforcement agencies

Formal agreements between Providence Police and other law enforcement agencies must be approved by City Council and posted to the PPD website. The outside agency must comply with all the terms of this ordinance. No one acting on behalf of the City of Providence shall assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law or gather or disseminate information on the immigration status of individuals. The Providence Police Department will not honor requests by ICE to arrest or detain any individual.

Accountability and Enforcement

Quarterly reports of all violations of this ordinance will be posted on the Police Department website and provided to the City Council. The Providence External Review Authority (PERA)will have power to review and recommend that Public Safety and Police Department budgets be reapportioned toward youth recreation and job training programs for failure to enforce this ordinance.



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