Mayor Angel Taveras must realize that the unemployment rates in his city and the rest of Rhode Island are simply astounding. Rhode Island lost 7,400 jobs in August and September and has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 10.5 percent — a far cry from the state’s real unemployment. Rhode Island has the seventh-highest state debt per capita. Providence has a comparable unemployment rate at 10.1 percent. And very tough budget-cutting decisions are ahead.
Taveras must also be aware of the shocking poverty numbers. Rhode Island has the highest poverty rate in New England at 14 percent. The child poverty rate is nearly 20 percent and has risen every year since 2008. What is worse, 43 percent of those living in poverty in Rhode Island live in “deep poverty,” meaning that one’s income is less than half of the national poverty level. Perhaps most shockingly, around 30 percent of Providence residents live in poverty.
And we know that Taveras sees the racial disparities in the numbers. The 2010 American Community Survey revealed that in an already depressed Rhode Island economy, blacks have a poverty rate nearly four times that of whites, as 36.5 percent of blacks are under the poverty line. Hispanic residents in Rhode Island fare only slightly better, with 30 percent living in poverty.
So while we commend the mayor for refraining from mass arrests and police violence to disperse the Occupy Providence protesters in Burnside Park, we wonder why he will not embrace the movement. Taveras has gotten national media attention for his plan to pursue a court order to evict protesters from the park.
We are happy that Taveras has not pursued the repression seen in cities across the country — namely Oakland and Atlanta — which has featured despicable police brutality and aggression. But given that the movement is up against such powerful and intractable forces — the large segments of the mainstream media that are dismissive of the movement, politicians on both sides of the aisle, corporations and financial institutions — it is disheartening to see the mayor of an impoverished and liberal city take such a pronounced anti-Occupy stance.
Taveras’ press release this weekend provided few justifications for his resistance to Occupy. He lists cold weather and “instances involving drug overdose” among his chief reasons for evicting the protesters. If the mayor wants to save people from the cold, perhaps he should devote his attention to combating the increasing problem of homelessness, which has risen statewide by 6 percent in just three months.
It is time for politicians in Rhode Island and across the country to step up and speak out in favor of the Occupy movement, not necessarily because they agree with its varied positions and proposals, but because the movement is critical to reversing the country’s dangerous course. Occupy Providence has done great work to illustrate some basic, uncontroversial truths that many elected officials have chosen to ignore: that corporations enjoy massive and unfair influence in politics; that such drastic economic inequality is both immoral and economically counterproductive; that financial institutions need proper regulation. We urge Taveras to recognize the despair in his city and his state and to support the protesters in Burnside Park.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board. Send comments to email@example.com.