Political Rorschach in the Wyatt Protest


Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that Steve Ahlquist’s overtly activistic coverage of yesterday’s protests at the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls is as objective, or more so, than some of the headlines that an Internet search will easily produce.  Some of them, for example, are saying that a correctional officer in a pickup truck “rammed” the protesters, which is a contentious way to describe what happened, to say the least.  ABC News uses the verb “plows,” which is also not accurately descriptive.

In a similar way, much of the coverage is phrased ambiguously to make it seem as if the truck sent people to the hospital, when it appears that the hospital visits were caused by the use of pepper spray, which officers used to help disperse a crowd that had surrounded the pickup truck and was shouting, “Nazi, Nazi, you can’t hide! You support genocide!”

One of the major advantages we have, these days, is that we can view video of these events and decide for ourselves.  That limits the ability of people spinning the facts to work up masses of people who would react differently if they were acting on primary source material.  What’s fascinating, though, is that people can still essentially witness the incident and come to wildly different conclusions.  Here’s Ahlquist’s YouTube of the whole thing:

What do you see?

Attempting to be as objective as I can, what I see is protesters illegally blocking a roadway when a pickup truck comes toward them and stops, as any driver might do approaching a crowd that’s blocking a public way.  The protesters scatter in a notably dramatic way, largely clearing the path for the truck.  Another perspective shows that the only people remaining in front of the truck were some protesters standing and pounding on the hood, and the driver moved slowly forward.  As can be seen by the stance of the protester in yellow in the featured image of this post, one could reasonably suggest that they were actually prepared for the truck to move and were braced against it.

At this point, the crowd swarms around the truck shouting in the window aggressively, to the point that a protest organizer intervenes to move them back a little.  Next, correctional officers arrive on the scene and back the crowd out of the way using techniques not unlike what the protesters had been using to block the truck.  When the protesters on one side of the street offer greater resistance than on the other side, the officers use a spray to disperse them.

A list of “shouldn’t haves” can be helpful:

  • The protesters shouldn’t have blocked the road.
  • The City of Central Falls shouldn’t have (pretended) not to know this was coming and should have been prepared to prevent that blockage, rather than creating a conspicuous delay.
  • The truck driver shouldn’t have moved forward once protesters made clear they were not going to move from in front of his vehicle.
  • The protesters shouldn’t have blocked the vehicle, pounded on it, or surrounded it and shouted “Nazi” at the driver.
  • Although I haven’t found a camera angle that gives me complete confidence in this, the officers probably shouldn’t have used pepper spray.

But now, the protesters have the footage they wanted and will continue to work to capitalize on it.  Future protesters, seeing the advantage, will look to repeat the process.

The disappointing part is that if we were to trace this down to the individual people involved, we could find sympathy for them (a few agitators, like Aaron Regunberg aside) and look for ways to reduce the level of conflict in our society.  As a matter of fact, reducing such conflicts is what our system of participatory government is supposed to do.

Unfortunately, that system isn’t producing precisely what the protesters want, so they’re forcing conflict and division in order to get a different result.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    Rorschach tests. I had to take a few as a kid. I always wondered why they were showing me all of the “dirty pictures”.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    I just thought I would throw this in as a fun fact to know and tell. I looked over a recently vacated apartment today and noticed the aerator from the kitchen faucet was missing. I stopped by my hardware store and mentioned that more than what I would think as normal had disappeared over the last ten years or so. They told me it was a real problem. People who smoke crack take out the screens and put them in the bottom of their pipes. He now sells aerators with plastic screens. I mentioned it to a guy who does my cleaning and painting, a black guy originally from the Bronx; he knew all about it. Another tenant was a former building manager in Brockton, he knew all about it. Amazing.

  • bagida’wewinini

    It’s amazing the lengths apologists for the State’s use of force against protesters will go to justify the suppression of unwanted expression and the actions of the paid enforcers. As I woke this morning I read that one of the protesters was hospitalized with a broken leg. Somehow I don’t think that type of injury is caused by pepper spray.
    Another separate but somewhat connected news item involving the Trump State’s war on democracy and decency revealed that the President urged the head of a foreign government to bar two members of Congress from visiting that country and Netanyahu and Israel has done just that. So locally the apologist says the injured protesters Should Not Have Been There and there would not have been any problems. Maybe you an find justification for restricting travel for domestic political enemies from our (democratic) country to democratic allied country. You would probably argue that the two US Congresswomen Should Not Have expressed the opinions that got them barred from their international travel. Good luck

    • Justin Katz

      Sometimes the fundamental dishonest of a comment requires response, and yours is one such comment. I said the protesters shouldn’t have been blocking traffic, pounding on the vehicle, or surrounding it in a threatening manner. That is in no way a statement that they shouldn’t be protesting or expressing a certain kind of opinion and you know it.

      • Makaha Ken

        I had to view this video 4 times to try and see or not see what the two of you were talking about. My knowledge base about the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility is it is a quasi-public facility operated in partnership of the City of Central Falls and the private business of Central Falls Detention Facility Cooperation housing detainees for the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Navy, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont are the primary states detention services are provided.

        Interesting enough, the protesting group of people were from RI and other states, a very well organized national Jewish group called “Never Again Action” organized the peaceful protest against Trump administration  immigration policies.

        The group were (some sitting on ground and some standing) on the City of Central Falls public sidewalk not in a street in front of a gated entry to a parking lot most likely used by workers from Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility when the vehicle driving up the street suddenly turned into the crowd stopping very short of impacting anyone in the video view but it is hard to tell what happened on the other side of the truck not in video view. It then started to inch forward pushing people back.

        It was reported a 64 year old man not from RI suffered a broken leg. Yes, you can see people getting pepper sprayed and you can see and hear and see a Wyatt corrections officer in uniform identifying himself as a “federal officer”.

        You can clearly see the corrections officer in the truck using a walkie talkie (not a tactical radio) to call in the other corrections guards to clear a path. Mind you, he and truck is located on City of Central Falls public sidewalk at this time and these are private guards not federal or city of Central Falls guards. At no time in the video did I see a City of Central Falls police officer, R.I. State Police State of R.I. Corrections Officer or Federal Marshal. These are private corrections guards on City of Central Falls public streets and sidewalks until they enter the parking lot. 

        According to national news reports, the corrections officer (Capt. Thomas Woodworth) was placed on administrative leave and he later tended his resignation. Governor Gina Raimondo is calling for a R.I. State Police investigation, Mayor of Central Falls James Diossa is calling for an investigation by Central Falls Police Department and R.I. Attorney General Aaron L. Weitzman is starting an investigation.

        There are a lot of troubling actions in this video that boarder on or are violations constitutional law and of civil rights. I’m sure There are other videos filmed of this confrontation. There is no conceivable way I as an adult or human being could condone what I whitnessed in the video.

        This is a topic with a supporting video that should have been moot till all facts are fully collected an legal actions taken or not taken. Surely hospital treatments and medical expenses plus pain and suffering will lead to law suits.

  • Christopher C. Reed

    If you believe what you read in the Projo, you’d think the officers behaved with something other than professional restraint in rescuing their fellow officer from a violent mob.