PROVIDENCE - Hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside the State House on Friday, voicing rage, fear and resistance to the U.S. Supreme Court decision to end the constitutional right to abortion.
Screams and shouts pierced the night as throngs of demonstrators waved homemade signs, some awash in red paint, reading "SCOTUS KILLS" and "ABORT the COURT."
A woman gazing toward the building's marble steps sported a black T-shirt on the back of which was written in pink paint: "I DISSENT" - a nod to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Jocelyn Foye, director of The Womxn Project, which organized the rally, described the news of the Supreme Court decision as "devastating" as she watched the growing number of so-called trigger laws take effect around the nation. Thirteen states, many of which are in the South, have such laws, which are designed to ban abortions upon the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Among those in the crowd was Colleen Daley Ndoye, executive director of Project Weber/RENEW, a nonprofit center for harm reduction and recovery services. She said her primary clients are drug users and Black people. She is now worried for their future.
"It is my biggest fear and it is my biggest concern, because I know that they will be the ones who will be disproportionately impacted by any bans. Anything where rights are being limited, I know they're going to be the ones who are going to feel it," Daley Ndoye said. "Richer women, white women are going to be able to travel."
Among the speakers was Jackie Anderson, a labor and delivery nurse at South County Hospital and a per-diem worker at Planned Parenthood. Her concern is that for some in the country, privacy may become a thing of the past.
"By taking away Roe v. Wade, they are stripping you of medical privacy," she said. "Yes, we still have HIPAA protections, but unfortunately, those can only take us so far. Court orders, subpoenas, discovery - all of those things can override HIPAA, which I don't think a lot of people understand."
The demonstration also attracted elected officials and political candidates, including General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who is seeking a congressional seat.
"It's a tragic development, and it is a scary, depressing, uncertain time for a lot of people," he said. "And I think the only real answer is that pro-choice candidates, in particular pro-choice Democrats, need to win elections. There's really no other solution."
Chaos erupts, and Senate candidate reports assault by opponent
While much of the protest took place without incident and was well-organized, a conflict emerged during the evening after apparent counterprotesters entered the area.
A man named Josh Mello was encircled by a swath of demonstrators as a speaker took the microphone and instructed him to leave. Mello livestreamed the incident on Facebook, and shows his face toward the end of the video. An altercation breaks out around the 16-minute mark. Video filmed by journalist Bill Bartholomew shows a man in a green jacket punching Mello. (The Journal last covered Mello in 2021 when he was arrested at a disturbance at a Cranston middle school, where police say he brought three knives.)
At one point, state police rushed into the crowd and eventually arrested a different man - who was neither Mello nor the man who punched him - who had been tackled by a K-9 officer. State police told The Providence Journal they also arrested a woman.
Rhode Island Political Cooperative Chairwoman Jennifer Rourke, who spoke at the protest, said she was punched in the face at least twice by her challenger in the state Senate District 29 race, Jeann Lugo. He was not the man arrested.
Lugo, a Providence police officer, claimed Rourke had become physical with him, which she denied. Lugo did not deny punching Rourke, who said she filed a police report and is looking to press charges for assault.
"I'm not going to deny," Lugo told The Journal of the punching allegation. "It was very chaotic, so I can't really tell you right now. Everything happened very fast."
"To me, this feels like an act of political violence similar to the acts of violence that we have seen across the U.S.," Rourke said. "I'm a Black woman running for office. There was no need, no need for any of this. I'm not going to give up."
Police launch criminal probe of officer
On Saturday, Providence police announced they have opened an investigation into an officer, who has been on the force for three years. Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré confirmed to The Journal that the officer is Lugo. As of Saturday, he had not been arrested or charged.
"The Providence Police Department is criminally investigating the behavior of an off duty Providence Police Officer last evening during a protest at the Rhode Island State House where a female subject was assaulted," police spokeswoman Lindsay Lague said, adding that Lugo "was placed on administrative leave with pay this morning, pending a criminal investigation and administrative review."
While the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights restricts Paré's ability to comment on such cases, he told The Journal that he saw online what had occurred.
"I saw the video last evening on social media and the behavior and physical assault on the victim is criminal and reprehensible," Paré said. "We will fully investigate."
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: RI abortion rights protest: Hundreds rally outside State House