Representatives of the Providence Human Relations Commission, the Urban League of R.I., the R.I. Civil Rights Roundtable and the ACLU of Rhode Island issued the following statement in response to yesterday’s State Police raid of the Narragansett Indian smoke shop:

“We recognize that there are many factual disputes surrounding yesterday’s police raid. Nonetheless, even after giving state officials the benefit of the doubt, we believe the actions of the state were inappropriate and excessive. Leaving aside the issues of tribal sovereignty which lie at the heart of the underlying dispute, there does not appear to have been any reason for the police to engage in a full-scale raid. If state officials believed that the smoke shop was operating in violation of the law, they could and should have done what they plan on doing today – go into court to seek an order barring the Narragansetts from continuing the store’s operation.

“Further, while state officials place the blame on the Narragansetts for provoking this terrible incident, one does not defuse a situation by bringing in a few dozen troopers and police dogs to execute a warrant. If state officials truly expected such a confrontation, all the more reason to have first resorted to the courts for appropriate injunctive relief.

“Finally, it is worth noting that as best as we can determine, the crime of selling tax-free cigarettes, at least for a first offense, is merely a misdemeanor. To have dozens of state police troopers raid an establishment on tribal land for the alleged commission of a misdemeanor strikes us as a blatant abuse of force.

“Nobody is completely blame-free for this unfortunate incident. But the state is in no position to talk about its ‘restraint’ in light of the show of force they displayed against the Narragansetts yesterday. It is easy to understand why the tribe views this as but the latest example of our government’s mistreatment of America’s first citizens.

“We hope that, as Governor Carcieri has apparently stated, there will indeed be an independent investigation conducted of this raid so the many questions that this incident has raised will be answered.”