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News :: Labor : Media
Providence Protesters Urge 'Justice'
by Mark Arsenault and Lynn Arditi
28 Aug 2007
NORTH PROVIDENCE — Clenched fists raised, close to 200 protesters yesterday denounced the North Providence police and demanded "justice" for a protester seriously injured two weeks ago while demonstrating at an Asian restaurant on Mineral Spring Avenue.
"There's no labor picket line that should be attacked," shouted the star speaker, Billy Randel, an Industrial Workers of the World organizer from New York City. To the police officers keeping watch on the protest, Randel yelled: "Maybe you should get a little more training. Maybe you should join the IWW."
Local IWW members organized yesterday's protest to speak out against the police response to the protest two weeks ago, during which 22-year-old Alexandra Svoboda suffered a serious knee injury when arrested by the North Providence police. She had been part of a protest march down Mineral Spring Avenue toward a planned demonstration at Jacky's Galaxie restaurant. The IWW says Jacky's was targeted because the restaurant had done business with a New York vendor that is accused of abusing workers with low wages and long hours.
There's no doubt Svoboda, a Nebraska native and student at the University of Rhode Island who lives in Providence, suffered a serious injury — her parents say she has already undergone four surgeries.
How she was hurt is in dispute.
The protesters claim Svoboda is the victim of police brutality, and was jumped by the police merely because she was in the front of the march. Local IWW organizer Mark Bray, 29, of Providence, said yesterday that Svoboda was hurt when two police officers "grabbed her, one on either side" and one officer performed a "judo-like move" in which he "used his leg, swung it around her leg, and hurled her forward" onto the ground.
"It was a trip move similar to what you see, I imagine, in certain martial-arts training or police training," Bray said, in an interview after the protest. "Her knee had no place to go behind her leg." The officer then "kneeled down to cuff her and even put weight on her leg," Bray said, adding, "we have photos," which have not yet been released publicly.
The police claim Svoboda pushed an officer, swung a set of drumsticks at other officers when they tried to arrest her, then was hurt when demonstrators tried to pull her away from the police and the officers took her "down to the ground" out of concern for their own safety. Deputy Police Chief Paul Marino and Mayor Charles Lombardi have said they don't believe officers did anything wrong.
The office of Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch is conducting a review into how Svoboda was hurt.
Yesterday's demonstration, on a humid afternoon under occasional light sprinkles in the parking lot of North Providence High School, was noisy but orderly.
Randel, a 55-year-old truck driver and union representative from Queens, made the trip from New York with several other IWW organizers. He has light eyes and shaggy gray sideburns that nearly touch at the tip of his chin. He wore pressed jeans, work gloves and a blue bandana over his head.
"Raise the fist of the worker in the air and let Alex know that she is going to get justice," Randel shouted. ".?.?. The IWW will not back down. Justice will be won."
Four North Providence police officers and at least two state troopers watched the protest from the perimeter.
Jason Tompkins, 28, of Providence, who said he was with Svoboda at the time she was injured, read from a statement by Svoboda's parents, whom he said were participating in a similar protest yesterday in their hometown in Nebraska, which drew 150 people to the state capitol building in Lincoln.
The letter states that their daughter had undergone four trips to the operating room in seven days and still has not begun orthopedic reconstruction of her knee ligaments. "We've yet to hear of any athlete whose knee ligaments were torn with such violent force," he said, reading from the statement, "as to sever the main artery to the lower leg and necessitate a bypass operation to save the leg."
Svoboda's parents said that their daughter was protesting "a New York City restaurant supplier that paid workers only $4.95 per hour with no overtime." Her protest was not surprising, her parents wrote, because their daughter "has always had a big heart and followed her convictions with actions."
Svoboda was home from the hospital yesterday, recovering. She did not attend the protest.
The protesters yesterday included representatives from Rhode Island Jobs for Justice, the coalition of which the IWW is a member; DARE; Council 94 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Students for a Democratic Society, the Olneyville Neighborhood Association and AS220.
"We're all supporting Alex," said Donna Schmader, 56, of Warwick, who joined the protest with other members of the Westminster Unitarian Universalist Church in East Greenwich. "We don't believe this can happen accidentally."
Among the protesters was Eliezer Maca, an unemployed warehouse worker from New York who said he lost his job after he began organizing coworkers for the IWW. Maca, 29, a native of Mexico, said through an interpreter that he now supports his wife and four children on $400 a week.
One of the speakers, Senia Barragan, likened Svoboda to a martyr, who was targeted because she was "in the front."
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