PROVIDENCE, R.I. — From protests driven by anger at President Donald Trump, to the #MeToo movement that had women coming forward to tell stories of sexual assault and harassment, many of the top stories in Rhode Island in 2017 reflected what was happening nationally. Also rounding out the top stories of the year, as chosen by The Associated Press: a dramatic and deadly police shooting on a crowded Interstate 95, a continuing state computer system debacle and the wheeling and dealing over a proposed new stadium for the Triple-A franchise of the Boston Red Sox.
THE TRUMP EFFECTS
The start of 2017 brought with it a wave of protests in Rhode Island from people upset over Trump’s policies, beginning with Inauguration Day, when hundreds of Providence students walked out of class and marched peacefully to the Statehouse. The women’s march the following day drew thousands.
Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse got his own taste of protest when hundreds attended a community event and expressed anger about his support of some of Trump’s nominees. Democratic politicians took public stands against Trump policies. Gov. Gina Raimondo, for example, signed an executive order committing the state to the goals of the Paris climate change accord after the Trump administration pulled out, and Democratic Attorney General Peter Kilmartin joined in several legal actions opposing Trump administration policies on subjects such as health care and the transgender military ban .
Trump maintains plenty of support in the state, though. Three Trump supporters, Republicans Allan Fung, mayor of Cranston, and House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan and independent former lawmaker Joe Trillo, launched runs for governor.
A high-speed chase prompted by the theft of a state police cruiser Nov. 9 ended with officers from Providence and state police shooting more than 40 rounds into a pickup truck on a jam-packed stretch of highway next to the Providence Place mall. The driver, who was killed, turned out not to be the man suspected of stealing the cruiser. A passenger was seriously injured. Questions have been raised by civil liberties advocates about whether police followed proper procedures for high-speed chases and use of force. A State Police spokeswoman says the department turned over the results of its investigation to the attorney general’s office on Dec. 1 for presentation to a grand jury.
RHODE ISLAND’S ‘#METOO’ MOMENT
As women around the country came forward to disclose that they had been subjected to sexual abuse or misconduct, Democratic Rep. Teresa Tanzi in October added her voice to the chorus . Tanzi told The Providence Journal that a more senior lawmaker she did not name told her that sexual favors would allow her bills to go further. Her revelation prompted an outcry, and state police and the attorney general’s office announced they’d launch an inquiry . Tanzi said she preferred to focus her energy on a task force looking at possible changes in the law, such as improving protections for nontraditional workers, and said she supported Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s response: training on sexual harassment issues for members of the General Assembly.
FOOD STAMPS FIASCO
Problems continued to plague a new computer system meant to handle applications for food stamps, Medicaid benefits and other state services. The system, known as RI Bridges, part of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project, or UHIP, was rolled out in 2016, even though federal officials said it wasn’t ready. The state in February settled a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union, which said they had failed to process food stamp applications and issue benefits within the time frames mandated by the federal government. But as delays for thousands of applicants continued, a federal judge last month appointed a special master to ensure people receive food stamps on time. The special master reported this month that the state had eliminated the backlog for applicants, but the ACLU says problems persist.
The Pawtucket Red Sox revived talk of a new stadium this year, and have been publicly flirting with a move to Worcester, Massachusetts if they don’t get what they want. The plan, which calls for the state and city to pitch in to build a ballpark near downtown Pawtucket, got support from Gov. Gina Raimondo and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, both Democrats. But Mattiello has been lukewarm. Meanwhile, Worcester officials courted the team, and Massachusetts’ Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said the state would support a move, although no one has been specific about what that means. The cross-border courtship prompted Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien this month to say that if the state won’t help, the city should finance the public portion on its own.