Black Lives Matter Rhode Island (BLM RI), a local organization focused on racial justice and equity, has recently focused their efforts on making changes in the worlds of education and prison reform.
Last Thursday, BLM RI held a roundtable discussion in conjunction with the University of Rhode Island to discuss their achievements and future policy proposals.
The main speakers at the event were Gary Dantzler, better known as “Brother Gary,” the executive director of BLM RI, and Bernice Morris, BLM RI’s policy advocate.
Among other things, Dantzler and Morris talked about their involvement in creating the first-ever African-American Innovation Center in New England. The Center, located in downtown Pawtucket, Rhode Island is built around a library with a focus on Black voices and will be opening at some point this year.
Dantzler said that Pawtucket was chosen because it has the highest percentage of African-American residents out of all the communities in Rhode Island.
Morris also spoke about BLM RI’s policy goals and the work that they have done to advocate for them recently.
Recently, members of the organization protested outside of a maximum-security prison due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 within the prison. Morris said this was mainly due to the prison failing to uphold safety guidelines.
“We heard some pretty horrific stories,” Morris said. “So we went and protested out there.”
BLM RI’s policy regarding prison and justice reform calls for the formation of a civilian oversight board for officer-related incidents, anti-racist training for all officers and instituting body cameras in police departments across the state.
In addition to prison reform, BLM RI also has a large number of educational policies that they are advocating for. These include increased funding for urban schools, diversifying school committees and pushing for universal pre-K.
“I couldn’t get a formal education, so I take education seriously,” Dantzler said. “I had to move a lot in a community in the ‘70s and ‘80s.”
In addition to those policies, BLM RI also organized to demand that the Pawtucket School Committee reopen schools. This led to Pawtucket schools reopening earlier this month.
Dantzler also talked about BLM RI’s relationship with Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, who said that she and Lt. Gov. Dan McKee were in contact with the organization to ask about legislative priorities.
Additionally, Dantzler said that they have worked with Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha on enhancing the state’s Hate Crimes Sentencing Act. This made it so that people convicted of a hate crime in the state are subject to additional sentencing.
“We get to have these conversations because of Brother Gary’s influence,” Morris said, citing his personal relationship with Raimondo.
After presenting these policies, goals and achievements, Dantzler and Morris took questions from their audience.
Jeivat Kenelak, a Black student at URI originally from West Papua, Indonesia, asked Dantzler if BLM RI could do anything to help Black people back in his home country.
“Our people – we are still poor, we are still uneducated and that is something that is just not fair,” Kenelak said.
Kenelak also said that he knew that people in the region wonder why their plight has not been heard by advocates in the United States. According to him, local resources are being taken by the Indonesian government. In addition to concerns of racial justice, there has been a longstanding secession movement in West Papua since the former Dutch colony became part of Indonesia in the 1960s, according to TIME Magazine.
Dantzler said he was intrigued by what Kenelak had to say, and that although he had never been on an airplane, he would be willing to fly to West Papua to help people.
Another attendee Darcy Roland asked Dantzler and Morris what the organization’s involvement was with amending the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR).
Dantzler said that BLM RI wasn’t helping with that as much as they would like to due to the organization not having enough people to help with it.
“We need so many arms and eyes to be a part of that,” Dantzler said. “That’s a hard one, but we still have a little bit of hope, and a lot of hope in our organization.”
There will be another BLM RI Roundtable Discussion on Tuesday, March 23. According to Dantzler, while this past one focused more on policy, the upcoming discussion will focus on Black excellence.