TALKING POLITICS

Political moves and the prospects for police reform

by IAN DONNIS
Posted 6/17/20

The protest movement sparked by the death of George Floyd is focused most immediately on calls to reform police departments throughout the U.S. Activists generally want to redirect a portion of money away from police budgets to social needs like housing.

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TALKING POLITICS

Political moves and the prospects for police reform

Posted

The protest movement sparked by the death of George Floyd is focused most immediately on calls to reform police departments throughout the U.S. Activists generally want to redirect a portion of money away from police budgets to social needs like housing. In Providence, where most of the police budget goes for salaries and benefits, Chief Hugh Clements defended the department. “150,000 times a year, somebody from the community calls the Providence Police for help,” Clements said during a City Council Finance Committee meeting last week. He contended that cutting police funding would make the city less safe, adding, “Certainly, we make mistakes, but by and large we hold our people accountable, and we do a damn good job.” Twenty years ago, when Buddy Cianci was still mayor, the Providence PD was mired in scandal and leadership was averse to community policing. Things are far better now, and Clements – like Col. James Manni of the State Police – appears to value an ongoing dialogue with a cross-section of Rhode Islanders. But people have been talking about the prison industrial complex for decades. And critics see a need for more police accountability, less of a quasi-military posture, and new approaches to decriminalize minor offenses. Until this point, making institutional change has been extremely difficult in Rhode Island; just consider the resistance to revising the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. Or how it took 17 years for the Providence External Review Authority, created in 2002, in response to Cianci-era issues in the PPD, to become a more credible outfit. The current moment offers a potential opening for change. The question is, where are the areas of agreement that can lead to real improvements?

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Rep. Dennis Canario (D-Portsmouth), who was first elected in 2012, is the latest Rhode Island lawmaker to reveal plans to leave the General Assembly. Canario cited unspecified personal reasons for his decision. He called serving in the House one of the best experiences of his life, but also lamented the tone of local politics: “There are far too many people who would rather resort to name-calling and purity tests rather than effectively representing our state’s diverse population and their needs. Often, these are people of privilege who although have altruistic motives, are blinded by their own well-standing in life to truly realize the pain and suffering that so many in our state suffer on a daily basis.” Two Democrats have announced in the race to succeed Canario: Michelle McGaw, a member of the progressive RI Political Cooperative, and John G. Edwards V, the son of House Majority Whip “Jay” Edwards.

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With the declaration deadline approaching on June 24, more candidates (and perhaps exits) will be emerging soon. Some of the latest news: Pawtucket City Councilor Timothy Rudd, who was planning to pursue the seat being vacated by Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket), tells me he’s decided against it. Another Pawtucket Councilor Meghan Kallman has indicated she’s seeking the seat … Rep. Deb Ruggiero (D-Jamestown) faces a primary challenge from Middletown Town Councilor Henry “Rick” Lombardi Jr.

Rep. Ray Johnston (D-Pawtucket) faces a primary challenge from Leonela Felix, whose experience includes serving as deputy policy director for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza.

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Worlds colliding: political consultant Kate Coyne-McCoy of Scituate, an early supporter of Gina Raimondo, ran a super PAC that backed Raimondo for governor in 2014. Raimondo, unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, gets some mentions as a potential running mate for Joe Biden, regardless of how unlikely that may seem. Now, Coyne-McCoy has signed on as a senior adviser for someone ascending in the veepstakes, U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Florida, as Biden faces growing pressure to pick a black woman as his running mate.

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Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Lanphear has ruled in favor of former Narragansett Town Councilor Susan Cicilline Buonanno, in part of the running battle over the Narragansett Library. After winning office in 2018, a new council majority scrapped plans to move and expand the library, much to the upset of residents. Cicilline Buonanno had filed a voter initiative petition to scrap the council majority’s actions and put the issue on the town ballot. The council ruled her petition invalid. Now, Judge Lanphear ruled, the petition is valid. Cicilline Buonanno was represented in the case by lawyer and political operative Matt Jerzyk.

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Voting was a mess in Georgia. Back in Rhode Island, John Marion of Common Cause of Rhode Island, via a ProJo op-ed, finds both positive and negative takeaways from our June 2 primary. Now, Common Cause, other voting-rights groups and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea are calling for a series of measures that would apply only to the rest of the 2020 election season. Some of their plan: “creating an online portal for voters to track their ballots, from initial application to final counting as a voted ballot; establishing a 20-day early voting period, to extend the time for in-person voting and reduce the number of people congregating at polling places on election day; providing a network of dropboxes for voters to return their applications for mail ballots and their voted mail ballots; opening a bilingual hotline for voters.”

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Two-time former gubernatorial candidate Ken Block has created a PAC, Fix Warwick PAC, with the goal of improving municipal politics in Rhode Island’s third-largest city. The PAC has a balance of $381, and Block said he’s unsure of the caliber of candidates who may emerge to challenge the completely Democratic city council. Nonetheless, he said, “I think Warwick is desperately broken, and there should be consequences.”

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President Trump this week shared an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory: that Martin Gugino, the 75-year-old peace activist who started bleeding from the ear after getting knocked down by police in Buffalo, New York, could be an “antifa provocateur.” While some say Trump should be barred from social media because of how much he lies, Tom Nichols takes the opposite view in a USA Today op-ed: “Trump’s account is, in fact, a subject of public interest. When the president of the United States speaks or writes, his words are policy. You may not like those words. They may be boorish, ignorant, ill-advised, or inflammatory. But they are coming from the head of the Article II branch of government, and it is better to have them in writing where we can all see them.”

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Dylan Conley, lawyer, chairman of the Providence Board of Licenses, and the son of RI Senate Finance Chairman William Conley (D-East Providence), is making a steep uphill Democratic primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin. Rhode Island’s Sept. 8 primary is less than three months away, Langevin has a huge financial advantage (with $1.2M CoH), and well-liked incumbent boasts impressive name recognition and a compelling personal story. For his part, Conley said he feels a call to action, and the run could raise his profile for a future race.

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John “J.R.” Pagliarini, well known in Rhode Island for his work with such pols as Allan Fung, Lincoln Chafee, Angel Taveras and Don Carcieri, shares word about his latest venture, Graphene Compositions USA, where he serves as president. The company was selected to participate in MassChallenge Rhode Island’s 2020 accelerator program. The company, which develops nanomaterials, offered this detail in a news release: “Most recently, we have developed a patent-pending graphene/silver nanoparticle ink formulation designed to kill Coronavirus and most other viruses, including influenza and nearly all bacteria, including MRSA and C. difficile. This formulation can be applied to fabrics, including N95 masks and other PPE. [Recently] we announced a strategic alliance with G-form, a leading sports gear manufacturer to make coronavirus-killing PPE and athletic products in the US pre-treated with our ink formulation.”

Ian Donnis is the political reporter for The Public’s Radio, Rhode Island’s NPR member station. Listen at 89.3 FM or visit www.thepublicsradio.org.

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