RI Leader Who Lead Fight to Re-Open Davey Lopes Pool, Stopped for “Driving While Black”

Thursday, August 10, 2017
Kate Nagle, GoLocal News Editor

Photo by Metts
Leah Metts, the woman who led the fight to overcome Providence politics and force the reopening of the Davey Lopes Pool in South Providence, tells GoLocal that she was profiled by Coventry Police and stopped for “driving while black.”

In 2014, top women’s fashion magazine Glamour magazine named her a "Hometown Heroes: 50 Phenomenal Women of the Year Who Are Making a Difference."

And GoLocal named her one of the “13 Who Made a Difference in 2013.”

But, in 2017, she claims she was stopped because of her race and treated aggressively by Coventry Police.

“The both cops were gung-ho but the second was the worst. He was so nasty and all he could talk about was my music. Then said I was speeding. I was playing Biggie Smalls on the radio, with all 4 windows down. Me being brown and playing rap music was the real problem,” Metts told GoLocal on Wednesday.

Leah Metts
Coventry Police Chief John MacDonald tells GoLocal, “I talked to my patrol captain who spoke with the officers a few minutes ago. Mrs. Metts was pulled over for going 42 mph in a 25 mph zone and given a warning for speeding. We have had numerous complaints of speeding on Blackrock Road and Gervais Street so we recently initiated some enforcement activities in that area."

Metts said, “I was so afraid for my life and then my son came running out of the house I thought they were gonna kill him because both of the hands were on their guns.

“I told them I was too afraid to get my registration and my license because I was afraid for my life. And I told him I was on the Providence Police advisory board and that I did nothing wrong and asked what did I do,” said Metts.

But, the Chief Mac Donald tells GoLocal that the stopped was in response to an ongoing problem in the area, “Today, those two officers did a stationary traffic enforcement post in the area and Mrs. Metts was one of four vehicles stopped over a period of time.  There were two officers on scene because one is a Field Training Officer who is training the other who is a new officer.”

“They both turned away and left no record, no ticket, nothing - harassment and its finest. But it's not the first time for my family. Why did they harass me with their hands on their guns? I am so sad about this,” said Metts.

  • Keith Oliviera

    Chairman of the Providence School Committee

    How many times have you been stopped by police?

    I have been stopped by the police 6-7 times by the police while driving. I was also stopped and detained once while walking home to Fox Point coming from the Brown Bookstore.

    What has your experience been - how did it make you feel?

    The first time I was stopped and detained by the police I was 15 years old. I was walking home to Fox Point from the Brown Bookstore on Thayer St. As I was walking, three or four police cruisers pulled up all around me with lights flashing. They got out the cars, grabbed me and pushed me spread eagle against one of the cruisers. I was told that there was a break-in on the next street over and I fit the description of the suspect. The phrase "you fit the description" sounds so cliché but it all so common. I was put in the back of a cruiser and driven through my neighborhood for all my friends and neighbors to see and driven to the house that was broken into. When it was determined that I wasn't the suspect I was allowed to walk home. While walking home I felt angry to be treated like a criminal and I felt humiliated to be seen as a criminal by my friends and neighbors. I also felt vulnerable and helpless that my freedom could be taken away so easily for being nothing more than a black kid walking down the street.

    What's your suggestion for officers?  

    My suggestion for police officers is to know the community that you serve. The police must become part of the community. But understand that how you serve the community will reflect how the community views you.   

  • R.J. Evans

    Digital Media Consultant at GoLocal

    How many times have you been stopped by police?

    I have been stopped by the police in my car about 5 times in my life and have been approached by them as a pedestrian about 3 times, all happening after I was 18 (6 years).

    What has your experience been - how did it make you feel?

    There were times that I felt I was treated differently because of my race. For instance I was pulled over with my best friend on a saturday night once, just headed home from a friends house and the police officer made us both get out of the car and he frisked us and asked if “we had guns or knives on us." This made me feel like there was already an assumption that because I was a black male I automatically had to have weapons on me and be up to no good. Little did they know I was a Division 1 athlete at Holy Cross who had never even seen a gun before in his life.

    What's your suggestion for officers?  

    My suggestions to the police would be to stay clear of pulling over or approaching people simply because of an “idea” or “assumption” of how a certain group of people carries themselves. I'm not saying all black men are perfect because that is far from true but we deserve the respect of every other race. If we break a law we should be charged. If we don’t then leave it alone. There is no reason to be targeting someone on what you assume because of the color of their skin.

  • Ray Rickman

    Founder, The Rickman Group

    How many times have you been stopped by police?

    “If you are actually asking how many negative encounters I have had with police officers, the answer is twelve. My first entanglement involved being beaten by four Detroit policemen for leading a walk-out at my junior high school. Foch was built to accommodate 2,000 students; when I arrived in the 7th grade it had 4,400 students. We demanded a new building. After the superintendent paid no attention, I was elected to lead a student protest. With a little help from several adult advocates, we were able to attract the media and the police to our walk-out. The four officers bloodied me with Billy-clubs just in time for the evening news. Four months later I was given a silver shovel to help dig the foundation for the new junior high school. That success has given me faith in non-violent protest. Two years later I marched with James Meredith outside Jackson, MS, where the local sheriff arrested us for trespassing after one of his deputies ran us off the road with his truck onto private property. That night in the Sunflower County Jail, two officers took turns punching me, after which the bludgeoned me, leaving two scars on either side of my head. I tell people that when I am bald, my civil rights scars will show. As head of the Providence Human Relations Commission in the 1980s, I knew of scores of young Black men being stopped by police for nothing other than being Black on the “wrong” street.

    What has your experience been - how did it make you feel?

    A city, a state and a nation where racism was legal prior to 1965, where individuals, police officers and the government could visit it upon Black men whenever they so chose, was the norm. I have seen much progress in Providence since Mayor Paolino curtailed many of these practices. But a glass half-full is not good enough in a free society.

    What’s your suggestion for officers?  

    Cornell Young, Jr. would be alive today if the police officers involved had given him seven seconds more to fully identify himself as an off-duty police officer. Police officers need to be trained in how to appropriately encounter minorities. Every one of the recent shootings across the nation has involved substandard judgment. Ten years ago, I trained the entire Providence Police Department, and had individual conversations with almost one hundred members of the force about interactions with the public. I felt the progress being made. Police officers should be encouraged to live in the city of Providence, and required to meet and greet citizens on their beats. It is human nature to fear the unknown. I would like to see the Police Department get to know us better. I have a tried to provide quiet leadership to some of new Black community leaders. I am impressed by their willingness to push for change. But, I have been saddened by the reluctance in White leadership. This is a moment that requires clergy, public officials, community leaders, and social workers to take to the streets to show that they care.

  • Chace Baptista

    Community Organizer, Concerned Citizens for John Hope Settlement House

    How many times have you been stopped by police?

    Asking me this question is like asking someone, how many times have they caught a cold?  I would estimate it at over 30 times.  This includes, walking, driving, and while riding my bike.

    This does not include interactions with the police ranging from arresting people that I care about, to my job working with them doing gang prevention in Kennedy Plaza for a year or as School Resource Officers in my school.  Counting those interactions the answer becomes innumerable.

    What has your experience been -- how did it make you feel?

    How do you describe a constant presence that does not interact with you unless they think something is wrong? Police are constantly there. Some polite. Some kind. Some respectful. Some neutral. Some who are quite frankly not those things. All of them melting into an amorphous amalgamation of uniform, badge, and baton.  At what point do they just become just another part of the Providence experience? Just as unpaved roads, dilapidated schools, and abandoned homes are?  Their presence is forever a part of my experience.

    The same people whose bosses I’ve met and possibly worked with or for.

    When they see me that does not matter.  How could they know?

    All they know is that on certain occasions, I’ve fit the description.  Between 5’5 and 6’3, African American male, weighing between 160 and 230 pounds.

    As a whole, I see them melt into one general picture as I must do for them.

    Asking me how I feel is irrelevant.  They have been a presence in my life since childhood. They are what they are.  I’ve had great interactions, with Chiefs of police and other higher ups.  However, when we talk about the day to day officer, for the most part I feel powerless. My voice, thoughts, experiences, do not matter.  At that moment, I can be spoken to however that officer chooses to speak me.  I can be treated however that officer chooses to treat me, and it’s ok.  He has full immunity to do whatever he wants to me. At least that's what our society has taught us.

    What's your suggestion for officers?  

    I have no suggestion. All police officers know how to treat people the way that they would want to be treated in their own community.

  • Kobi Dennis

    Community Organizer, Founder of Project Night Vision

    How many times have you been stopped by police?

    How many times have you been stopped by police? Since the age of 16, I've been stopped by law-enforcement in over 5 states approximately 30-40 times. (reasons vary) 

    What has your experience been - how did it make you feel?

    What has your experience been -- how did it make you feel? I will be the first to admit some of the stops were warranted, speeding, no seat belt etc. The stops that continue to leave feelings of doubt are definitely the majority. Naming departments will only fuel the fire that has already been "burning out of control" among law-enforcement , therefore I will say this. The departments that require minimal education requirements, zero residency restriction and archaic recruiting processes will always remain less professional during car stop or civilian interaction. I am a social service professional with countless hours of training and volunteer hours under my belt. In order to properly serve the community in any capacity or within any city, you must know and understand the population of people. I truly believe law-enforcement is not for the faint of heart and lately the officers I've encountered display barriers before they even utter a word. I can almost smell the fear and distrust before they reach my vehicle. Combine this mistrust and fear with little to no knowledge of the neighborhood or the culture and routine traffic stops or face to face confrontations become stressful situations for all involved. 

    What's your suggestion for officers?  

    Professionalism!! I believe our officers should be taught to remain professional at all times regardless of the situation. When an officer is unable to remain professional, they should face the consequences just as any other professional in any other field of work. Absolutely no passes!! The only way to become a professional in your field of work is through extensive training and research about the subject matter or population. My suggestions include: professional development training, mentor , volunteerism, community events, coaching, school events, etc. The officers will never see "Eye to Eye" with the community they serve unless they stand "Shoulder to Shoulder".  

  • Mike Van Leesten

    CEO of OIC of Rhode Island

    How many times have you been stopped by police?

    I haven't had that experience of being stopped, so I don't fit into that category.  I must not have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But I've always been enaged in change.  

    What has your experience been - how did it make you feel?

    My experience has to do with a police brutality suit years ago, stemming from an incident that occured in South Providence. Hundreds protested, and that's when the coalition of black leadership formed.  After talking with people, I knew the only way was through the courts. I was told that I should talk to top notch civil rights attornies.  We got Alvin Bronstein -- he's a foremost civol rights attorney -- and I had to get affidavits from people who alleged police brutality -- I got 150.  This would have been in 1971.  

    I had to raise some money to hire attorneys -- I was representing six plaintiffs in the suit - 4 are dead, and the remaining 2 don't want much to do with it anymore, so I'm the last man standing

    We got Drew Days -- Professor Emeritus at Yale , Assistant Solicitor General for [former President Jimmy] Carter -- John Roney with RI Legal Services -- so we went to the courts, they reviewed the affidavits down to 75 -- and there was a consent order. We weren't happy, but it was progress.

    What's your suggestion for officers?  

    Here we are, 40 years later. A year and a half ago Pare and Clements called for changes under the consent order -- they're reasonable guys -- and the only way they could make changes was if the plaintiffs agreed, the 2 remaining just signed off, again, I'm last man standing.  The timeliness of it all, it provides us with an opportunity -- if they want an effective one, it gives us the opportunity to come up with an effective one.  I'm hoping to affect something that's good for the community and all the nuances.  We want to put together something doesn't exist in the U.S. America was built on these types of traumatic things that happened -- throwing the tea in the Boston Harbor.  

  • Jim Vincent

    President of NAACP - Providence Chapter

    How many times have you been stopped by police?

    Fortunately. I have (only) been stopped by police only a few times in my life.

    What has your experience been - how did it make you feel?

    Most of the times there wasn't an issue, however, a few times the officer acted unprofessionally.  Nothing serious, but it was dehumanizing.

    What's your suggestion for officers?  

    My advice to officers is that you can't act professionally at ALL times, they should leave the department.

    After the forum Monday night, I am convinced that there is a problem with police community interactions in Rhode Island.  It is my belief that the vast majority of complaints from the community involve the few "bad apples" who are employed by virtually every department in the state.  Community police relations will only improve when the police are better able to police themselves. Every thing from the complaint process, progresive dicipline and the policemen's Bill of Rights needs to be greatly reformed. The vast majority of police officers do a great job of serving and protecting our communities but its the few "bad apples" who make it bad for all of us.



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