RezaRitesRi.com, a RI-based website promoting ethnically, artistically, and socially diverse voices, is expanding its team of writers/ journalists/ photographers/ correspondents. RezaRitesRi.com is a 21st century blog intentional in featuring and highlighting multicultural arts and culture; Civil Rights, Human Rights and empowering political dialogue; and inclusive historical and social reflection. Faithful to its RI roots, but considerate of its broad reach, the site recognizes and celebrates the presence and countless contributions of people of color, young people, women, local artists, grassroots leaders and other people generally and systematically underrepresented in the public sphere.
Visitors to the site will find full length articles and interviews, exclusive photographs, thoughtfully selected event listings, original podcasts, informative and interesting links, and more. But we’re looking for more, and we’re looking to expand our team of contributors. This is not a chance to be paid…at least not yet. This IS a chance to be published and seen by a readership as far away as Spain, California, Washington, D.C, and more. It is also a chance to be promoted and supported by a team well-known for 1) written contributions to and regular appearances on various RI radio stations, print publications, and blogs; and 2) grassroots work in the Providence community and across college campuses in the state.
Previously published AND non-published individuals, and RI and non-RI residents are welcome to submit work or initiate contact. Non-negotiable are the following things: some familiarity with the site; the passion and energy for learning and expression; the willingness to explore diversity locally and contextually; and the desire to join a team OR strictly follow guidelines/deadlines.
To send samples of your work, to discuss a trial writing assignment, or to RSVP to a March 31 informational meeting, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a subject that sounds like “Joining RezaRitesRi.com” or “Writing for RezaRitesRi.com.”
by Raymond L. Watson
(Raymond L. Watson, above, follows in the footsteps of other community leaders, as Executive Director of the Mount Hope Neighborhood Association and President of the Rhode Island Young Professionals.)
To Whom It May Concern,
My name is Raymond L. Watson and I am supporting the ACLU’s Racial Profiling bill serving in two capacities; as both President of the Rhode Island Young Professionals and as Executive Director of the Mount Hope Neighborhood Association. Racial profiling is an issue that affects many of the residents of our state and needs to be addressed immediately. To deny this fact is to run contrary to logic and reasoning, as statistics from the ACLU’s January 2007 report entitled “The Persistence of Racial Profiling in Rhode Island: A Call for Action” clearly show that while drivers of color are twice as likely as their white counterparts to be pulled over and searched by law enforcement officials, they are half as likely to have contraband on them. Regardless of the reasoning given to explain this disparity, the bottom line is that drivers of color are being unfairly and unjustly treated under our State’s current rules and regulations.
The issue of racial profiling hits close to home for me for one reason in particular; I am the statistic that the ACLU’s report is addressing. I am the driver of color who is more likely to be pulled over than my white counterpart even though I am less likely to be breaking the law. This truth is unsettling for me on a number of levels. First and foremost, it is both frustrating and humiliating to be pulled over, asked to get out my vehicle and have to stand on the side of the road as my vehicle is searched, just to be told that there was a mistake and that I should have a nice day. Whether law enforcement officials say it or not, through such actions they show that they believed me to be involved in some form of unlawful activity. For a law-abiding citizen such as myself, it bothers me that I can be treated like this for no apparent reason and with what seems to be no repercussions for the officer who subjected me to this treatment.
Even more important than my own personal frustration with this situation however, is how such activities serve to reinforce the negative stereotypes that are often associated with people of color. If officers are pulling over and searching drivers of color twice as often as they are white drivers, it is reasonable to assume that passersby are twice as likely to assume that people of color are engaging in criminal activity. As I stated previously, the fact that I am asked to step out of my car and have my car searched implies some form of guilt on my part. I would argue that it is not a far stretch of the mind to assume that if I feel as if I am being treated as if I am guilty, that passersby will also assume that I am guilty when they see me on the side of the road being treated in such a manner. The outcome of such a relationship between RI law enforcement officials and drivers of color is that drivers of color are seen as more likely to be engaging in criminal activity as a direct result of policing procedure, which ultimately translates to a perception that people of color are more likely to engage in criminal activity.
Critics of this bill have given a number of reasons to not support this bill. Claims have been made that this bill promotes illegal immigration. Claims have been made that the bill wants to limit communications between state/local and federal law enforcement agencies. Claims have even been made that documentation of police procedure is too taxing on our law enforcement officials and that in fact police policy should not be subject to the oversight of our legislature. To all of these accusations I say this; there should never be a point when ensuring the status quo of law enforcement comes at the expense of the civil liberties and constitutional rights of our citizens. To adhere to such a mindset is to ultimately lose the very essence of what makes us Americans; our freedoms and right to be treated fairly and justly as citizens of this nation. Protecting those who are in positions of power and authority should never come at the expense of subjugating or treating as second class the citizens that these individuals have sworn to protect. As a state we should not be attempting to silence the voice of those who are being abused. Rather, we should be working to ensure that not only are their voices heard, but that the proper steps are taken to address what their concerns are.
In my opinion, there should be support for this bill at all levels of the Rhode Island community. First and foremost, residents should be supporting the bill because like it or not, the truth of the matter is that many of our fellow Rhode Islanders are being unfairly treated based upon the color of their skin. To think that in the year 2007 we still have to be worried about “driving while Black”, or “driving while Latino” or “driving while Asian”, etc… is disheartening, to say the least. At its most intense, it is infuriating to think that 50 years after the civil rights movement we as a state are not only still acting in such a manner, but also trying to justify and protect such behavior. It does not matter what your race, culture, ethnicity or age is, as a Rhode Islander you should be upset that your fellow Rhode Islanders are being treated in such a manner. Rhode Islanders should be supporting this bill.
The legislature should also be in support of this bill. The ACLU’s January 2007 report states, “Though supposedly based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminal activity, three out of four searches turned up no contraband whatsoever. This not only raises troubling questions about the reasonableness and legitimacy of many searches, but should be of alarm to police departments themselves, whose officers’ limited time and resources are regularly being wasted on the side of the road.” Not only are the civil liberties of their constituents under attack, but such activity is also waste of hard-earned tax payer dollars. The numbers don’t lie; 75% of the time that we see a law enforcement official stopping a car on the side of the road, they are going to find nothing in that vehicle.
For arguments sake, let us assume that the average officer searches 4 cars a day, at about 15 minutes a search. That equates to 45 minutes of wasted police time per day. Multiply that by 5 days a week, times 52 weeks a year, times how many years the officer is in a patrol detail; and this is just for one officer. How many other officers may be engaging in such financially irresponsible behavior? How many taxpayer dollars do our law enforcement officials waste on pointless searches that do nothing more than further strain the already fragile relationship that exists between our law enforcement agencies and many of the residents of our state? The legislature should be supporting this bill because not only does it protect their constituents rights and liberties, but also because it makes sense from a fiscal standpoint to ensure that productive police work is being conducted at all times. The legislature should be supporting this bill.
Lastly, and arguably most important, our law enforcement officials should be supporting this bill. As I have previously stated, the numbers don’t lie. Drivers of color are being pulled over twice as often as their white counterparts, but are half as likely to have contraband on them. The statistics show it. There is no debating it. Racial profiling is an issue in the State of Rhode Island. There has been a lot of discussion on the part of our law enforcement agencies of the need and desire to both build and strengthen relationships with the community, in particular with communities of color. Supporting this bill will take these sentiments from just words into the realm of action, which is what has been lacking in previous discussion on this matter. Law enforcement support of this bill will show the residents of this state that not only do our law enforcement officials realize that racial profiling is an issue in the State of Rhode Island, but that they are admitting that it is an issue and most importantly that they are actively engaged in doing something to address this issue and doing something that is supported by the community. Law enforcement officials should be supporting this bill.
Racial profiling is occurring in the State of Rhode Island. There’s no more denying it. There’s no more pretending it’s not happening. There’s no more brushing it under the rug. There’s no way around the statement; racial profiling is an issue in Rhode Island. The question that must be addressed now is what do we as a state, we as a community, we as Rhode Islanders do about it? Do we chalk it up to collateral damage in the fight against crime, while allowing our friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow Rhode Islanders to continue to have their rights and liberties trampled upon? Do we ignore the facts that have been presented as proof of this grave injustice on the part of many of our law enforcement officials? Do we protect the status quo at the expense of basic human decency and rights? Or do we stand together as a community, and put a stop to this now? Racial profiling is an issue in the State of Rhode Island. The question is what are we as Rhode Islanders going to do about it?
Support the ACLU’s Racial Profiling bill.
Raymond L. Watson is the Executive Director of Mount Hope Neighborhood Association and the President of the Rhode Island Young Professionals (RIYP), an auxiliary to the Urban League of RI. For more information about the Neighborhood Association, call 401-521-8830, and for more information about RIYP, visit www.riyp.org or email email@example.com.
By Reza Corinne Clifton
(From left to right: Johanna LeClair, Arlene Violet, Ada Winsten, Dorcas Kumba Kamanda, Ruth Crocker, Stephany Kern, Vanessa Contopulos, and Awista Ayub.)
CRANSTON, RI - War, peace, rape, healing, death, song, children, women. These were some of the subjects thought about and talked about on Thursday, March 8 – International Women’s Day – by people in communities across the globe, including here in Rhode Island. That’s because to coincide with this important day, the YWCA of Greater Rhode Island hosted its first-ever Female Faces of War Conference at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Cranston.
The mission of the YWCA is “eliminating racism” and “empowering women,” and the Greater Rhode Island location is the third oldest in the country, founded in 1867. YWCA’s are now present in “122 countries worldwide,” according to information handed out at the conference, and the mission is the same for all.
While perhaps not as many as 122, many cultures were represented at the day-long Conference, which was comprised of two basic parts: 1) speaking presentations by six diverse and non-affiliated women; and 2) workshops on peace and personal healing.
Sticking close to home for a few of the roles, Event Chair – and YWCAGRI Board President - Johanna LeClair, Event Co-Chair – and Executive Director – Claire Silva and others who organized the event chose Arlene Violet and Karen Adams for Mistresses of Ceremonies and recently elected Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts for Closing Speaker.
Violet, who was born and raised in RI, made history in 1984 as the first woman in the nation’s history to be elected Attorney General. She is also known for her 15 years as a radio talk show host as well as for her regular newspaper column and frequent media contributions as legal or political commentator. Adams is also a media veteran - an award-winning anchor at WPRI/Fox’s Eyewitness News, with experience throughout the East Coast as well as in Japan, South Korea, Cape Verde and Mexico.
Notwithstanding the participation of Violet, Adams, and Lt. Governor Roberts and the workshops offered toward the end of the program, the real success of the event was delivered by the panel of speakers: Ada Winsten, Ruth Crocker, Awista Ayub, Vanessa Contopulos, Stephany Kern, and Dorcas Kumba Kamanda. Witnessing, running from, assisting after, or suffering as a result of death and war, each of the women orated a story that wove together loss of life, healing, peace-building, empowerment of individual selves, and uplift of others into a web that caught the attention and hearts of the audience.
The audience, it must be noted, for perhaps it is evidence of the necessity of this conference, had less than a handful of men – aside from members of the media crews and visibly proud husbands. And despite the state’s policies and reputation for welcoming families and children from war-torn regions and countries like the former USSR, Liberia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Colombia, Lt. Governor Roberts appeared to be the only elected official there.
To provide a sample for those who missed this important RI event, or to support what you may remember hearing if you were in attendance, I’ve provided brief excerpts from and about the personal history and testimony each woman shared. This information comes from notes I recorded during the conference and from details provided by the YWCA.
(Left: Dorcas Kumba Kamanda and Vanessa Contopulos. Right: Awista Ayub and a conference attendee.)
Her passport at one time was stamped “Displaced Person”
She recalls her family attempting to join other Jewish families upon a ship that ended up being turned away in Florida and Cyprus (an island situated in the eastern Mediterranean, near Turkey, Greece, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt) before having to return to its point of departure in Europe. All the passengers aboard were later killed.
She tells the story of a Japanese soldier who signed so many transit visas that there are 40,000 children and grandchildren who can be traced back to him. He gave her family theirs as well (during WWII).
There was a lot of music, singing, and art, she recalls; that’s how people get through these things.
There was so much silence after the Vietnam War, she remembers.
As women, Crocker shares, we separate our private essence from the roles we play – as mothers, daughters, or sisters.
Soldiers from her husband’s platoon found one after another, one year after the next, eventually finding her too; they seek a healing that comes from finally talking about what they’d experienced under his leadership. It made her realize that like her, there were many people that had kept his memory alive; many who attributed their survival and their success to his leadership despite his premature death in combat.
Afghanistan’s history is much more diverse and progressive than recognized, she explains. “My mother has pictures of herself in short skirts and bell bottoms.”
“Taking the Burqa” off, she opines, discussing the preoccupation with the cloth and religious symbol, will not necessarily end the result of over 30 years worth of war in the country.
Ayub was born in Afghanistan but moved to the US at 2. She grew up in Connecticut where she played lots of sports, especially tennis and hockey.
Originally, Ayub’s organization, the Afghanistan Youth Sports Exchange, brought young Afghani women to the U.S. to train, but what she really wanted was to go to Afghanistan. Therefore, they started clinics right there in Afghanistan, forming and working with 2 teams. Two years later, there are 15 girls teams that formed in Kabul independent of Ayub’s organization.
Friends of hers working on a documentary went to Sudan to do a film about Darfur, but ended up going to Uganda after hearing about the night commuters – children who sleep every night in the city instead of in their villages for fear of being kidnapped and recruited to fight for the warring Lord’s Resistance Army. The film they ended up doing was called The Invisible Children.
They invited Contopulos to participate in their next project, with which they were attempting to hear from the girls suffering at the hands of the LRA.
As a music therapist herself, she contacted a colleague for advice – a woman who’d done music therapy in Kosovo, Northern Ireland, and other war-torn regions. From this woman, Contopulos received a donation of instruments. She then landed at a rehabilitation center for girls who escaped the LRA and simply asked, “would you like to have a music class?” She had this mental picture, she reports, of taking guns out of the hands of girls, to replace them with instruments.
“I can’t keep my eyes closed [to the women around the world suffering and being violated],” she explains. “Their stories become part of our stories; their stories become part of our own healing.”
“It could happen to anyone,” Kern explains of the circumstances that led to her son joining the marines. “Boy meets girl, falls in love and makes decisions related to love,” she says, referring to the decision he makes to care for his daughter, who was born with multiple heart problems. He tried to find work with health insurance coverage, she recalls, in Massachusetts, RI, Connecticut and New Hampshire. His last option, he eventually concluded, was the marines.
Three weeks into boot camp, she shares, he broke his leg. It was originally diagnosed as a sprain which means they kept making him run on it. They ended up re-diagnosing it as broken, which means it had to be re-broken and set.
“I tried so hard to keep him from returning [to duty in Iraq],” she recalls, “and the way I finally did was by saying, ‘If they [the Marines] couldn’t diagnose your leg…Marissa is supposed to have open heart surgery!” But then, she got a call, she remembers, “‘Mom, they left me outside for 11 days till I changed my mind.’ I didn’t ask or think about those 11 days at the time. Now, I do all the time.”
Dorcas Kumba Kamanda
Kamanda moved to the U.S. from Sierra Leone upon suggestion by her mother, after she defended her daughter against several rebel soldiers. Kamanda’s sister, she would learn, was later slaughtered in front of her children after trying to defend her daughter from being kidnapped into sexual slavery.
Kamanda corroborates memorable accounts seen in the recent movie, Blood Diamond - “‘Long-sleeve or short-sleeve?’ they would ask victims” prior to inflicting amputations at the elbow or hand. Those with one hand would consider themselves lucky, Kamanda reports.
It was not till a British journalist visited and took pictures that the world knew of the war, Kamanda shares. The world’s attention was elsewhere, for it was during the same time as the war in Kosovo.
Starting as a medical clinic, her organization – Nasarah-CITA – has fostered the creation of a separate women’s empowerment organization, while another current initiative includes paying healthcare workers to give reports over the country’s first independent radio station.
For more information about the six speakers, or for additional information about the Female Faces of War Conference and the YWCA of Greater RI, visit www.ywcagri.org.
Reza Corinne Clifton is the publisher and editor of www.RezaRitesRi.com, a news and events website for RI’s ethnically, artistically, and socially diverse. She is also a regular contributor to www.RiFuture.org. Her articles have also appeared in several print and online publications, like the Providence American Newspaper, the Kent County Daily Times, and Motif Magazine. She also works as a Community Development Specialist at the Urban League of RI.