State Senate candidate Jennifer Rourke Rhode told the Grio that she was recovering in a hospital and felt “a ringing” in her ear.
A Providence, Rhode Island police officer and state Senate candidate is on paid leave after physically assaulting his black opponent during a pro-abortion protest Friday night.
Video of the assault, captured by radio and podcast host Bill Bartholomew, shows Republican candidate Jeann Lugo (R-RI) punching her Democratic challenger Jennifer Rourke, a black woman, in the face.
The next morning, Rourke took to Twitter to to share the five-second clip with his followers that shows a slowed-down version of the assault. Shortly after Lugo punched Rourke, several protesters apprehended him.
“I am a reproductive rights organizer and a candidate for the State Senate. Last night after speaking at our Roe rally, my Republican opponent – a police officer – viciously attacked me,” the Democratic Senate candidate tweeted. “That’s what it’s like to be a black woman running for office. I will not give up.
Rourke told the Grio she was recovering at a local hospital and said she felt “a ringing” in her ear and the left side of her face was “extremely tender”. She expressed that she felt “a mix of emotions, a lot of disappointment and just sadness.”
She added: “We are at this point in our political atmosphere with things like this becoming the norm. So it’s very sad.
Rourke is a member of The Woman Project, a reproductive justice nonprofit, and felt it was important to attend the protest after the Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade. She told the Grio that while fighting for access to safe and legal abortions in Rhode Island, she found it necessary to protest the court’s decision because of the impact reversing a once fundamental right.
“I fought for access to safe, legal abortions in the state of Rhode Island and we knew the decision was coming and we were right there,” she said. “I wasn’t there to talk about the reproductive part but how this decision will overturn the ability for me, a black woman, to be married to my husband, a white man, and how the precedent of Roe v. Wade will change the climate when it comes to marriage equality, access to birth control, and interracial marriage.
According According to WPRI 12 News, tensions were high at the pro-abortion rally in Providence on Friday night when counter-protesters arrived at the State House and began disrupting protests.
In a statement obtained by the Grio, Rourke said she was “de-escalating [a] situation and the counter-protester was leaving when the altercation started – I was assaulted as a result.
She added: “That’s what it’s like to be a black woman running for office. Across the country, people like me are threatened or attacked when they flee. I won’t stop fighting — for reproductive rights, for people in my district, or for people like me who want to run for office.
Lugo, who is a three-year veteran of the Providence Police Department, told WPRI he was “in a situation that no one should see themselves in.”
He added: “I stepped in to protect someone who was being attacked by a group of agitators.”
At present, Lugo has not been charged or arrested for his actions.
The Republican candidate was off duty at the time of the altercation, police said. He has since been placed on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation.
The police department said in a Tweeter that it was “…a criminal investigation into the behavior of an off-duty officer last night at a protest in which a woman was assaulted.” The officer served for 3 years and was placed on administrative leave with pay this morning, pending a criminal investigation and administrative review.
Rourke told the Grio that Lugo did not “deny” his actions or apologize for the incident.
“As a police officer, how can we trust what you are doing to keep the people you are supposed to protect safe,” she asked. “I don’t think he has the ability to act like a policeman. So I don’t think being part of the force is a good choice for him.
As voters in the state’s 29th District continue to weigh their options on who they plan to vote for in the Rhode Island Senate race, Rourke told the Grio that residents need a leader who s refrain from resorting to violence.
“They’re looking for someone who has the ability to speak calmly to people,” she said. “They’re looking for someone who isn’t afraid to come out and speak up for them. They are looking for someone who is ready to fight, but not in a physical way. Someone who will fight using his words in legislation.
theGrio contacted Lugo’s campaign team, but they did not immediately respond for comment.
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