Jennifer Rourke Remains Strong Despite Both Physical and Political Attacks

By Maura Mulholland

On June 24, 2022, Jennifer Rourke, a Democratic candidate for the Rhode Island State Senate, was physically assaulted at an abortion-rights protest in Providence. Video evidence shows the scene unfolding as pro-choice activists surrounded an anti-abortion counter-protestor. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, Rourke escorted the counter-protester out of the crowd and into a less packed area. Moments after this occurred, a man attacks the counter-protester, the camera jostles a bit, and then focuses on Rourke, recognizable in a bright pink shirt, being punched twice by another man. 

The man who assaulted her, Jeann Lugo, was her opponent in the state Senate race. A police officer aligned with the GOP, he dropped out of the race the day after the incident. He was arrested, but released on personal recognizance. His actions are currently being investigated by the police department, and he has been placed on administrative leave. 

Lugo was only the first candidate with a questionable background to run against Rourke. The Tuesday after Lugo dropped out of the race, Michael C. Carreiro, who helms the Warwick, Rhode Island firefighters’ union, filed to oppose Rourke in the race for the District 29 State Senate seat. Some recent revelations in Carreiro’s Facebook history have revealed a troubling past. In 2009, Carreiro, a white man, attended a themed event dressed as Black singer James Brown. Pictures were posted online of him in brown face paint and a wig, an evident attempt at Blackface. In addition to this racist garb, images have emerged of Carreiro posing and smiling next to well-known conservative television host Tucker Carlson, a man who he apparently admires despite Carlson’s divisive political commentary and personal life. 

In the midst of Rourke grappling with her controversial opponents, she reached out to the Democratic committee of District 29 in an attempt to earn their endorsement and support. The committee has declined to speak regarding any of the candidates in the race, and according to Rourke, will not even return her calls. Rourke’s candidacy, and the inadequate response of Democratic leadership to her concerns for her safety, has catapulted a local Senate race to the national stage and reveals how inhospitable U.S. politics are to Black women. Women of color who seek to run for public office unfortunately face a daily double-edged combination of misogyny and racism. 

The Vega v. Tekoh Decision is an Attempt by the Court to Fight Back Against Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd Protests

On June 23rd, the United States Supreme Court rolled back the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination that was articulated by the Warren Court’s 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona. The conservative justices on the Court tried to characterize this decision as a logical reframing of the 5th Amendments interpretation, but in reality, this decision is merely an attempt to protect police officers in an era where policing is viewed increasingly negative.  

In its 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court found that police officers are required to inform suspect of their right against self-incrimination (among others) in order for the arrest and subsequent prosecution to be constitutional. In Vega v. Tekoh, the 2022 Court found that police officers cannot be sued in civil courts for failure to administer the Miranda warnings.  

This case arose after Terence Tekoh, a hospital attendant, was accused of sexually abusing a patient in Los Angeles, CA. Tekoh was interrogated by Carlos Vega, who did not inform him of his Miranda rights, and Tekoh ultimately provided written confession to the assault. This confession was later used as evidence in his criminal trial, though he was acquitted by a jury. As a result of his interrogation, Tekoh filed suit against Officer Vega under a federal civil rights law, Section 1983, which allows citizens to sue police officers over violations of constitutional rights. 

The Vega decision leaves in place the aspect of the Miranda ruling where Defendants can have their criminal charges thrown out if the arresting officer fails to inform them of their rights at the time of arrest. All 6 conservative Justices found in favor of rolling back the Miranda protections, with the three liberal justices dissenting. In his written opinion, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. argued that  

“Miranda rests on a pragmatic judgment about what is needed to stop the violation at trial of the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. That prophylactic purpose is served by the suppression at trial of statements obtained in violation of Miranda.” 

Justice Alito is willfully ignorant of the purpose of the 1966 Miranda decision. His decision does not engage with Fifth Amendment protections in good faith, and should instead be viewed as an attempt to further protect police from civil suits. In the wake of the widespread George Floyd protests of 2020, states and localities have seen a mass influx of civil suits against police. In the Tekoh decision, Justice Alito argued that “Allowing the victim of a Miranda violation to sue a police officer for damages…would cause many problems.” The Tekoh decision is not about fixing a previous mistake, it is about protecting police and the violent tactics they use to confront and intimidate African Americans. The Supreme Court has succeeded in rolling back one of the few legal protections available to people of color to push back against misconduct from officers.