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Brown students respond after Jhamal Gonsalves left in coma following moped crash involving police

Students share frustration with policing in America, absence of University response

After Jhamal Gonsalves was critically injured on a moped in a crash involving Providence police Oct. 18, a wave of protests flared up in the city over police brutality.

Gonsalves, a 24-year-old man from Providence, was in a coma for weeks.

Although released body camera footage and other publicly viewable videos do not directly show whether or not a police cruiser hit Gonsalves, the incident sparked a wave of protests and calls for justice in Providence.

After learning about the crash, University students turned to social media to express their frustrations. 

Aida Sherif ’22 told The Herald that she has been “trying to spread awareness of what actually happened.” In addition, she is sharing resources about how to donate to Gonsalves’ medical bills and family. 

After a summer of activism following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police officers, some students told The Herald they believe many University community members do not know about what happened to Gonsalves, even though the crash occurred only a few miles away. 

“I don't know what's different about this one, like maybe the public isn’t aware outside of Providence. I live with nine other people, and I think if I asked any of them, none of them would really be able to engage in a conversation with me,” Jae Crawford ’22 said.

While protests in response to Gonsalves were held in Providence, some students didn’t feel comfortable attending. 

“I was torn about going to protest, and I didn’t end up going because I didn’t think it was safe because so many people got arrested and the police responded pretty brutally to the protest,” Sherif said. Uprise RI posted a brief video of police officers knocking down a protestor and using batons.

After a protest Oct. 20, 21 protestors were arrested, according to Uprise RI.

Students said they weren’t surprised that the incident had occurred so close to campus.

“I think police brutality is just sort of within the fabric of the police system in the United States,” Jordan Walendom ’23 said.

Crawford agreed. “While Providence is home to liberal ideas and home to Brown … I do believe that police brutality can happen everywhere and does happen everywhere.”

Although Black Americans account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, they are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans, according to the Washington Post

“All police departments are not only capable of perpetuating violence against communities of color, but they just do. I think it was kind of unexpected for Providence because their police department claims to have really good relationships with communities of color and they’re nationally (recognized) for having a good community policing model,” Sherif added.

The Providence Department of Public Safety has not come to a conclusion as to the cause of Gonsalves’ injury. “We want to do a thorough investigation, and we have not yet received any video of the point of impact at that scene,” said Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré in a briefing Oct. 26. Paré emphasized that determining the cause of Gonsalves’ injury was a priority for their investigation. The Providence Police Department did not respond to requests for comment at press time.

While Sherif and Walendom had discussed the incident in some of their classes, they were disappointed by the lack of a response from the University, which has not publicly commented. 

“It’s important that we do not represent Brown, as a university, as speaking with any level of knowledge or authority regarding an incident where we have no direct involvement or knowledge,” University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald. “Though we recognize that many individuals at Brown independently will have perspectives to share.”

University students have more generally called for increased action on the part of the University against racially motivated police violence, The Herald previously reported

“Especially Brown, as a very embedded member of the Providence community, should take a stance on such things,” Walendrom said. “They should definitely have made a statement condemning it, at the bare minimum.”

“I do believe the University has an obligation to talk about it with their students, talk about it with their faculty, with their staff and have public town halls and have public statements put out,” Crawford added. “I don’t believe the University said anything, so definitely disappointing in that way.” 

“They all talk about wanting to support people of color … but when they have the power to do that if they wanted to, it’s clear that they don’t want to do anything,” Sherif said.



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