Five people protesting a Rhode Island prison that works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement were treated at a hospital Wednesday after a truck allegedly driven by a prison worker drove into the crowd of demonstrators. None of the injuries were life-threatening.
The protesters were with the group Never Again Action, which describes itself on Twitter as “Jews taking direct action with immigrants and allies against ICE and their enablers.”
They were gathered Wednesday night outside of the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls. A couple dozen people were sitting on the ground blocking a staff parking lot when a black truck approached around 10 p.m. The truck sped up, startling the protesters, then stopped. After a brief pause, it accelerated. The incident was caught on camera.
The protesters said the driver worked at the prison, and in another video, it’s clear that he’s wearing a uniform and badge. The man was allowed to walk into the building after ramming the demonstrators, they said. But first, guards pepper-sprayed the crowd.
Director Sam Eilertsen tweeted that he took the video of the incident posted above and initially “thought I was filming the next Heather Heyer moment.” He added, “It was absolutely shocking and horrifying and I’m a bit shaken up.”
“It was terrifying because we didn’t know what exactly his intention was,” Never Again Action spokesperson Amy Anthony told the Washington Post.
WRPI reports that the facility has been “under scrutiny for months” after agreeing to hold ICE detainees before trial. The news station said that “approximately 139 federal immigration detainees are currently being housed at Wyatt.”
Rhode Island attorney general Anthony Neronha announced an investigation into the incident Thursday. “Peaceful protest is a fundamental right of all Americans; it is unfortunate last night’s situation unfolded as it did,” he said in a statement. “We urge all to exercise restraint as our investigation proceeds.” State police will also investigate.
Protesters on the scene Wednesday night said police outside the prison refused to intervene in the confrontation between protesters and prison workers. Former Rhode Island state representative J. Aaron Regunberg, who was among the protesters, wrote on Facebook that “literally dozens of us from tonight’s protest asked, clamored, demanded that the police take witness statements about the attack, and they actively refused to do so. What kind of violence is someone like that willing to regularly unleash on powerless detainees, inside a prison where there are no cameras and no accountability?”
The chief of the Central Falls Police Department denied that to the Providence Journal, telling the paper, “We asked anyone that saw anything to come to the station and file a report.”