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.