ACLU and Civil Rights Groups Find "Cause For Alarm" in Rhode Island Governor's Civil Rights Record

August 12, 2003 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE, RI — The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island and more than 20 civil rights and community organizations joined today in the release of a report sharply critical of Governor Donald Carcieri’s civil rights record during his first six months in office.

The 16-page report, Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs in the Governor’s Office, finds “”cause for considerable alarm,”” with five major issues the governor has dealt with during his term, from racial profiling to judicial appointments to a botched raid on an Indian tribe. The governor’s actions, the report said, demonstrate “”a pattern of ignoring the people with something to say about discrimination when an issue directly affecting them”” arises. The report concludes with a series of 20 recommendations that address the groups’ concerns with the governor’s civil rights record.

The five issues addressed in the report are: Governor Carcieri’s decision not to appoint Superior Court Judge Rogeriee Thompson to a vacancy on the Rhode Island Supreme Court; his failure to demonstrate any leadership at all on the problem of racial profiling by police; his refusal to veto legislation giving the Town of North Smithfield an unprecedented exemption from the state’s Fair Employment Practices Act; his decision to raid the Narragansett Indian smoke shop; and his unilateral reversal of DMV policies on the granting of driver’s licenses to immigrants without Social Security Numbers.

*Judicial Appointments: Governor Carcieri’s decision not to appoint Superior Court Judge Rogeriee Thompson to a vacancy on the Rhode Island Supreme Court was a lost opportunity of tremendous magnitude and meaning to communities of color, women and all others concerned about a diverse judiciary. Further, the reasons given by the governor for bypassing her nomination were, to put it mildly, less than compelling.

*Racial Profiling: The governor has failed to demonstrate any leadership at all – indeed, appears to have done or said absolutely nothing whatsoever – on one of the most pressing race issues of our time, the problem of racial profiling by police.

*North Smithfield and the Fair Employment Practices Act: Perhaps nothing better demonstrates the governor’s attitude toward civil rights than his decision not to veto a bill opposed by his own anti-discrimination agency and by 14 other organizations concerned with civil rights. By approving unprecedented legislation allowing a town a free ride from discrimination lawsuits, the governor not only ignored the views of civil rights groups, he actively participated in a “”compromise”” that supported a town’s ability to discriminate as long as the state wouldn’t have to pay for it.

*The Narragansett Indian Smoke Shop Raid: The governor’s decision to raid the Narragansett Indian smoke shop – and the attendant consequences caught on videotape – has rightly led to widespread national condemnation as well the call for a federal investigation. Unfortunately, it is but the latest example of the governor acting first, and considering the consequences later, when it comes to interaction involving people of color. The governor’s further refusal to address questions raised by an internal review of the raid, which he had commissioned from the state police, only underscores the problems with his involvement in, and response to, this controversial episode.

*Immigrants and Drivers’ Licenses: Ignoring three years of collaborative negotiations between the state and groups representing the state’s burgeoning immigrant community, the governor unilaterally revised DMV policies on the granting of driver’s licenses to people without Social Security Numbers, a decision of enormous consequence to that community. Both the action he took and the way he took it demonstrates, at best, a bland indifference to the needs and lives of people in the immigrant community.

The report emphasizes that it is not just the governor’s decisions on these issues that have troubled the minority community, but the way he has made them. In addition to providing details about Governor Carcieri’s troubling actions on these issues, the report contains 20 recommendations that the governor is asked to implement to address the concerns that this report has raised about his record on civil rights.

Among its recommendations, the report calls on the governor to:

  • Exercise his statutory authority to make diverse appointments to the Judicial Nominating Commission;
  • Call on the Superintendent of State Police to review and modify any agency practices and procedures that are inadvertently leading to racial profiling;
  • Publicly renounce any further legislative efforts to create special exemptions to the Fair Employment Practices Act;
  • Address the questions and inconsistencies raised by the state police internal review of the Narragansett Indian smoke shop raid;
  • Reverse his administration’s present position denying drivers’ licenses to people without Social Security Numbers;
  • Formally commit to engaging in meaningful consultation with representatives of civil rights and community groups before significant action affecting those constituencies is taken.

The report was prepared by the Rhode Island Civil Rights Roundtable, the ACLU of Rhode Island and Rhode Island Affirmative Action Professionals (RIAAP). Groups joining in support of the report include the Center for Hispanic Policy and Advocacy; International Institute of Rhode Island; Progreso Latino; DARE; the Cambodian Society of Rhode Island; NAACP, Providence Chapter; and the Rhode Island National Organization for Women.

The report is available online in PDF format at /node/22022

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