A senior corrections officer at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island has resigned after being placed on administrative leave for driving his pickup truck into a crowd of peaceful protestors on Wednesday night. The attack left one man, 64-year-old Jerry Belair, with a broken leg and internal bleeding, and four others were hospitalized after the officer’s colleagues used pepper spray to disburse the crowd.
In an interview with the ACLU, Matt Harvey, a spokesperson for the Jewish-led civic group that coordinated the protest, called the officer’s actions a “shocking and ugly example of the violence that is an integral part of American immigration policy right now.”
The protest was coordinated by the Rhode Island chapter of Never Again, a loose federation of activists formed in response to the Trump Administration’s hardline immigration policies. It was the second major action the group has taken at Wyatt this summer. In early July, 18 of its members were arrested after blocking the entrance to the privately owned facility where over 100 detained immigrants are being housed under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
According to Harvey, the protest was attended by up to 500 people. Gathering at 7PM, the group heard from local faith leaders and community activists, leading one another in chants and songs outside the facility. Anticipating a shift change by guards, around 30 members of the group moved to block the main parking lot used by employees of the prison at around 9PM. Harvey says they intended to use “peaceful protest in the civil disobedience mode” to disrupt Wyatt’s operations for a few hours.
“We worked really hard to create the right atmosphere for the event,” he said. “And that atmosphere was committed and serious, but also peaceful and positive.”
But around 9:45, events took a chaotic and frightening turn. Footage captured by one attendee shows the line of protestors sitting peacefully outside of Wyatt’s gates while being led in a call-and-response chant by a man with a megaphone. Without warning, a pickup truck takes a sharp right turn into the line of protestors, nearly running a number of them over before gunning the engine and driving through the crowd.
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