In Your Neighborhood

What happens when Black women farmers are harassed in Johnston

Leader of African Alliance of Rhode Island sends out a plea for help, saying: “Our lives are in danger, no one cares.”

Photo by Julius Kolawole

An unknown white male in a black truck reportedly harassed two Black women farmers at the African Alliance of Rhode Island farm site in Johnston on Thursday morning, Sept. 17. The incident was reported to the Johnston police.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 9/21/20
A series of threatening incidents at a farm in Johnston operated by the African Alliance of Rhode Island escalated last week, with a truck driving through the field, damaging crops, and causing two women farmers “to run for their lives.”
What will be the response of the Johnston police? Will they pursue the alleged perpetrator in the black truck and seek any charges against the driver? Do these series of harassing events rise to the level of a potential “hate crime” that the R.I. Attorney General could pursue? Is the Mayor of Johnson, Joe Polisena, willing to investigate the occurrences, to speak out on the threats, and to consider providing protection for the farmers? Will Black Lives Matter consider making a public march in Johnston to bring attention to the problems of alleged racial harassment at the farm?
In a speech on Friday, Sept. 18, in Bemidji, Minn., President Donald Trump called it “a beautiful thing” when a television reporter was struck by an object fired by police [it was a rubber bullet, but Trump described it as a tear gas canister]. Such glorification of violence against the news media by the President encourages similar despicable acts, in ConvergenceRI’s opinion.
Further, President Trump’s attacks on the 1619 Project and his attempts to launch a “patriotic” version of American history seem to be a blatant move to support a propagandist view of history to be rewritten to favor white supremacy.
The alleged harassment and intimidation of Black women farmers in Johnston fits into a dangerous pattern of racial hatred being sown by the President and his supporters.

JOHNSTON – An alarming email came over the transom late Friday night, Sept. 18, from Julius Kolawole, the president of the African Alliance of Rhode Island, with the subject line: “Our lives are in danger, no one cares.”

For years, Kolawole has been a dedicated advocate of sustainable community farming, working with many members of the African community in Rhode Island, to grow, develop and market and new products, such as a relish, to support a growing network of farmers.

In 2019, the African Alliance had acquired the use of farmland in Johnston to expand the growing capability of his network of farmers, in partnership with the Northern Rhode Island Conservation District. Many of the farmers are women who were immigrants and refugees from African countries, including Rwanda, Liberia, Burundi and the Congo. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Will Rhode Island invest in an urban farming enterprise in South Providence?”]

Earlier that day, ConvergenceRI had received an email from Kolawole announcing the news that a collaborative group, made up of farmers of color in Rhode Island [including his organization], Connecticut, and Massachusetts had been awarded a USDA grant to support the creation of a regional network of farmers of color to support their agricultural enterprises.

What happened
On Thursday morning, two women farmers had arrived at the Johnston farm to find a black truck driven by a white male, parked at the end of the farm, part of a continuing pattern of harassment and intimidation in recent weeks, according to Kolawole.

Here is how Kolawole described what happened in his email: “Two women farmers arrived at the farm by 7:30 a.m., to find this truck parked at the end of the farm. They were scared and ran for their lives back to the garage.”

As Kolawole detailed in his email, the women farmers called him, and he showed up around 9:15 a.m. The truck had driven over growing areas and caused much damage the plants being grown, including “garden egg, sweet potato green, and zucchini.”

Kolawole called the Johnston police, but the truck drove away before the police showed up, according to Kolawole. But Kolawole took a photo of the truck, capturing its license plate, and gave the information to the police.

Kolawole went on to say in the email: “In the past few weeks, there have been many incidents [similar] to this, from [people] on foot, [in] auto and [on] motor bike.”

Five farmers, he continued, have left the farm already and were not coming back to harvest the crops, because of the alleged harassment.

“Do our lives matter to anyone?” he asked plaintively in the email. “I am tired, upset, frustrated, fed up and sleepless. “These women do not deserve this kind of treatment [and] intimidation. [They are] scared for their lives.”

In an interview with ConvergenceRI on Saturday morning, Kolawole confirmed that he had talked with the Johnston police, that they had taken his statement, and told him he could pick up a copy of the incident report on Monday morning.

Kolawole talked about the women farmers and the fears provoked by the alleged harassment. “Many of these women are refugees,” he explained, who had experienced traumas in strife-torn countries in Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Congo. “For them to be experiencing all this again, in the U.S., is terribly unfair.”

Kolawole concluded: “We just want to be part of the family, part of the community.”

Responses
On Saturday afternoon, Sept. 19, Kolawole received a response to his initial email from Marina Capraro, the Snake Den Farm Manager for the Northern Rhode Island Conversation District.

She wrote: “I am aware of this scenario and have met on the Hartford Ave. property with Julius [Kolawole] to discuss how NRICD can assist in making farmers feel more secure.” Capraro continued: “Over the next week we will be working to better secure the gated entranced off of Hartford Ave. so that no unauthorized vehicles will be able to access the field.”

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