For well over a month now, there’s been an ongoing protest at a homeless encampment at the State House in Rhode Island. The goal of the protests is to draw attention to the very real issue of housing security, which is a top issue for any member of the working class as wages continue to stagnate amongst record-level inflation. 

The average apartment rental in Providence is well over $2,000 with 60% of ALL apartment rentals being over that mark. Meanwhile, the state’s minimum wage is $12.15. A minimum wage worker would have to work nearly 49 hours per week JUST to make enough to pay the average rent. This doesn’t include a car, utilities, food, or any other basic necessities.

Yesterday, in RI Superior Court, Judge David Cruise ruled against a temporary injunction filed by the RI ACLU on behalf of the unhoused individuals at the state house. The defense, on behalf of Democratic Governor Daniel McKee, argued that the state can and SHOULD regulate how, when, where, and by what means first amendment gatherings can take place. They used case references from Occupy court cases, among others. 

Let’s not forget that the capitalist system systematically and brutally crushed the Occupy Wall Street movement. Local police departments, sheriff’s departments, state police, federal agencies, local courts, state courts, and federal courts all teamed up to systematically repress the movement, and this is nothing but a preventative measure aimed at preventing another class-based movement.

The tension in the courtroom was immediately noticeable. As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by a court officer who screamed about my hat with her hand on her taser. Others were scolded for things like stretching (“You can’t put your hands up!”) The judge was siding with the state on most objections. This isn’t surprising when Judge Cruise was appointed by Dan McKee himself, and apparently they have a long-standing personal relationship.

Things didn’t even start to go in the favor of the Plaintiffs (the unhoused individuals being represented by the RI ACLU) when it was pointed out that Chief Little lied on his affidavit! Chief Little claimed that an incident report showed that a member of the cleanup crew was punctured by a hypodermic needle at the encampment, while the incident report clearly states that the crew member came into contact with, but did not have their skin punctured by, the needle. The judge didn’t even mention the lie once, moving forward.

Rhode Island has a Homeless Bill of Rights, and the defense argued that the provisions set forth in that don’t apply to the Capitol grounds. (A public space is a public space, no?) 

At the end of the day, the state patted themselves on the back for housing a couple of the individuals that had been at the encampment. This completely ignores the facts surrounding the case. This isn’t about those specific individuals, it’s about the circumstances that lead to them. It’s about the right to dignity, privacy, security, and, of course, the freedom of assembly.

This court ruling is a fundamental affront to our most basic of human rights, is a way of undercutting activists’ work in the community, and more. In the end, it’s yet another example of how our (in)justice system systematically backs the Capitalist power structure over the needs of the masses. The court system is simply another arm in the system of oppression. 

Interested parties can get involved with the Emergency Housing Coalition, which meets at the Mathewson St Church in Providence, RI every Sunday at 4 PM

Click to read the United Panther Movement’s Statement on State of Rhode Island’s Treatment of the Oppressed Homeless People

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