RHODE ISLAND: Corrections Officer Resigns After Driving Car into Protesters

Photo: Moments before corrections officer Thomas Woodworth drove his truck into a line of protesters.

By Jennifer Kelly

Wednesday night, at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island, a group of protesters with Never Again Action were struck by a vehicle driven by a senior corrections officer – Thomas Woodworth. As he plowed into them, more protesters gathered around and jumped on top of his car chanting “shame shame shame” and “the whole world is watching.”

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Protesters surround Woodworth’s truck.

After Woodworth called for back-up, a large group of corrections officers from the facility ran out to his aid, pepper spraying the protesters and reporters. They formed a protective ring around his car and let him through, while protesters screamed at them. Two protesters who had been blocking the entrance to the facility were hospitalized after being struck by the vehicle and three more were hospitalized after being pepper sprayed.

Following a suspension, Woodworth has since resigned from his position, and the incident remains under investigation both by the facility and by Rhode Island police.

Despite this repression, Never Again Action maintains its faith in the bourgeois justice system, saying in a statement, “We expect the investigation by the Rhode Island State Police and the Attorney General to continue and to address the violence and dehumanization that is an integral part of the ICE detention process.” To them, the violent attack by Woodworth and by extension the violence done by ICE in general is an aberration within the bourgeois system, rather than its essence.

This is not the first time Woodworth has lashed out violently. In 2007, Woodworth was sued for using excessive force against an inmate while serving as a corrections officer in Connecticut.

Never Again Action had brought out a few hundred people to march on the detention facility, which is the only one in the state willing to accept ICE detainees, and presented a letter demanding information about the conditions of those being held in the facility. When their demands were not met, they attempted to “shut down” the facility by blocking the entrance by sitting in front of it.

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Protesters march around Wyatt Detention Facility.

Protesters were willing to face arrest, as Never Again Action tweeted “30+ of us are risking arrest, 200 more are supporting as we prevent guards from arriving for the night shift.” However, the limitations of their nonviolent approach are evident in the results – their demands were not met, the facility remains open, and several protesters were injured. The corrections officers, especially Captain Woodworth, did not respect their peaceful nonviolence.

Woodworth’s violent response recalls other instances where protesters were run over with cars, most notable being the murder of Heather Hayer in Charlottesville in 2017 by the fascist James Fields. With the continually increasing violence of mass shootings, the escalating tactics of fascists on display in Portland and elsewhere, and police executions of the unarmed, it is clear that only organized, revolutionary violence can be counterposed to the growing reactionary violence of fascists and officers of the bourgeois state.

Counter to this view, one of the protesters on Wednesday speaking to the media on behalf of Never Again Action was Aaron Regunberg, a former state representative and current candidate for lieutenant governor. On his twitter and in the media he is quick to say things like “No system this violent can be allowed to continue” and describe himself as a “People’s candidate [fighting] for a Rhode Island that works for all of us, not just the rich and well-connected few.”

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Aaron Regunberg

Regunberg, a Democrat politician, is deeply committed to that same system and to working for it. Politicians like him work only to support US imperialism and will defang young movements like Never Again Action and drag them into the dead-end of the ballot box, following the path of social-fascists like Bernie Sanders. The moment the masses begin to rise up in opposition to oppression, snakes like Regunberg will be there to turn it away from revolution and perpetuate, rather than destroy, the bourgeois state.

While Never Again Action is correct to mobilize the masses to protest these facilities, they fail to link the atrocities to their source – US imperialism, and so they can only nip at the heels of ICE. Furthermore, with their nonviolent strategy and faith in the bourgeois justice system, they can do no more than create a spectacle without any of the meaningful gains that could be won by striking back. The whole rotten bourgeois order must be overthrown, and to do so will require more than passive resistance. When reactionaries show no peace to the masses, then no peace should be given back.