Rhode Island state senate candidate speaks out after Republican opponent, a cop, assaults her at pro-abortion rally

State senate candidate Jennifer Rourke Rhode told theGrio that she is recovering at a hospital and is experiencing “a ringing” in her ear.

Jennifer Rourke, Jeann Lugo
Left to right: Democratic candidate for Rhode Island state senate, Jennifer Rourke, and Republican candidate Jeann Lugo. (Photo: WPRI 12 News, Uprise RI)

A Providence, Rhode Island police officer and state senate candidate is on paid leave after physically assaulting his Black female opponent at 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 his Democratic challenger Jennifer Rourke, a Black woman, in the face.

The following morning, Rourke took to Twitter to share the five-second clip with her followers which shows a slowed-down version of the assault. Shortly after Lugo struck Rourke, several demonstrators apprehended him.  

“I’m a reproductive rights organizer & State Senate candidate. Last night, after speaking at our Roe rally, my Republican opponent – a police officer – violently attacked me,” tweeted the democratic state senate candidate. “This is what it is to be a Black woman running for office. I won’t give up.”

Rourke told theGrio that she is recovering in a local hospital and said she is experiencing “a ringing” in her ear and the left side of her face is “extremely tender.” She expressed that she is feeling, “a mixture of emotions, a lot of disappointment and just sadness.”

She added, “We are at this place in our political atmosphere with things like this happening that’s becoming the norm. So, it is very sad.”

Rourke is a member of The Woman Project, a non-profit reproductive justice organization and believed it was important to attend the protest following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. She told theGrio that while has been fighting for access to safe, legal abortions in Rhode Island, she felt it necessary to protest the court’s ruling because of the impact that overturning a once fundamental right

“I have been fighting for access to safe legal abortions in the state of Rhode Island and we knew the decision was coming and just being there,” she said. “I wasn’t there to speak about the reproductive portion but how this decision will overturn the ability for myself, a Black woman, to be married to my husband, a white man, and how the precedent of Roe v. Wade is going to change the climate as far as marriage equality, access to birth control and interracial marriage.”

According to WPRI 12 News, tensions were running high at the pro-abortion rally held in Providence Friday night when counter-protesters arrived at the State House and began disrupting demonstrations.

PROVIDENCE, RI – APRIL 25: The Rhode Island State House in Providence, RI is pictured on April 25, 2019. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

In a statement obtained by theGrio, Rourke said that she was “de-escalating [a] situation and the counter protestor was leaving when the altercation started – I was assaulted as a result of that.”

She added, “This is what it is to be a Black woman running for office. All across this country, people like me are threatened or attacked when they run. I’m not going to stop fighting – for reproductive rights, for the 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 that he was “in a situation that no individual should see themselves in.”

He added, “I stepped in to protect someone that a group of agitators was attacking.”

At this time, Lugo has not been charged nor arrested for his actions.

The Republican candidate was off duty at the time of the altercation, according to the police department. He has since been placed on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation.

The police department said in a tweet that it was, “…criminally investigating the behavior of an off duty officer last evening during a protest where a female was assaulted. The officer has served for 3 yrs and placed on administrative leave w/pay this morning, pending a criminal investigation and administrative review.”

Rourke told theGrio that Lugo has not “denied” his actions or apologized for the incident.

“As a police officer, how can we trust what you’re doing to keep the people you’re supposed to be protecting safe,” she asked. “I don’t think he has the capability to act in the manner of a police officer. So, I don’t think being on the force is a good fit for him.”

As voters in the state’s 29th district continue to weigh their options on who they plan to cast a ballot for in the Rhode Island senate race, Rourke told theGrio that residents need a leader who will refrain from resorting to violence.

“They’re looking for someone who has the ability to speak to people in a calm fashion,” she declared. “They’re looking for someone who is not afraid to get out there and speak up for them. They’re looking for someone who is willing to fight, but not in a physical manner. Someone who is going to fight using their words in the legislation.”

theGrio has reached out to Lugo’s campaign team, but they did not immediately respond for comment.

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