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A group that protested outside a prison in Rhode Island says two of their members were injured Wednesday night after a corrections officer drove his truck into the group.
Never Again Action, a Jewish activist group that was protesting federal immigration policies and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, posted a video on social media that showed a black pick-up truck driving into protesters who were sitting in front of the prison’s parking lot entrance.
The video shows the truck approaching the parking lot and turning right into the entrance before stopping in front of the line of people.
The crowd stood up in reaction as the car stopped. The driver then honked the horn before moving forward into the group of people.
Two protesters were taken to the hospital for injuries suffered from the vehicle, Never Again Action said on social media.
Video then shows other officers rush toward the crowd and use pepper spray to disperse the group. Three other protesters were hospitalized for “severe pepper spray exposure,” the group said, adding that none of the injuries were life-threatening.
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The incident occurred in Central Falls at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility, which is used by federal immigration officials.
Aaron Regunberg, a former state representative and organizer with Never Again Action, said the corrections officer behind the wheel was in uniform when he drove into the line of people, which video from the protest shows. The officer was not arrested, Regunberg said.
“It was very clearly deliberate,” Regunberg told USA TODAY.
Reached by phone Thursday by USA TODAY, a prison employee declined to comment.
The Central Falls Police Department released a statement saying it is working with the Rhode Island State Police and Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha to investigate the incident.
“Any witnesses who have not yet made a statement are encouraged to reach out to the Central Falls Police Department, or the Rhode Island State Police,” Central Falls police said in the statement. “We are unable to provide further information at this time in order to maintain the integrity of the investigation.
Calls to ICE were not immediately returned.
Neronha, a Democrat, said in a statement his office was investigating the incident.
“Peaceful protest is a fundamental right of all Americans; it is unfortunate last night’s situation unfolded as it did,” Neronha said.
Regunberg said the protest was “peaceful” before the incident, with demonstrators singing and praying outside.
Catarina Lorenzo, director of AMOR, a Rhode Island group that works with immigrants on legal, health and social issues, said the group was “shocked” as the vehicle drove into the group. Lorenzo’s group helped organize the protest.
Lorenzo also said she was surprised at the police response to the protest outside the prison. “It was public. I can’t imagine what they do when nobody is watching,” she said.
Regunberg said the group was there to protest not only for the rights of detainees inside the prison but also against ICE.
TheWyatt Detention Facility is a privately-operated prison that describes itself as a “non-profit, quasi-public detention facility.”
Never Again Action aims to ensure that atrocities like the Holocaust aren’t repeated, Regunberg said.
“We’ve seen past atrocities … We’ve seen past tests that bystanders have failed. We’re not going to repeat those mistakes,” he said. “It’s not just this one guy. It is a system.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
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