We’ll start with the positive: An announcement by the U.S. Department of Education that Sherenté Mishitashin Harris, a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe from Charlestown, has been named as a candidate in the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. Sherenté, a senior at the Metropolitan Regional Career & Technical Center in Newport, was nominated in the career and technical education category; up to 20 career-technical students will be among the 161 scholars who will be honored in June. The announcement from the education department said that Sherenté, 17, is the son of Thawn and Eleanor Harris. But in an “Indigenous Cultural Artist Statement,” Sherenté proclaimed a “Two Spirit” identity and said she had been a champion in the Fancy Shawl dance, which is performed by women at powwows — part of her role in “trailblazing the path for LGBT equality within my indigenous community.” We wish Sherenté the best of luck as her application proceeds to the presidential program’s review committee.
Now the negative. If you saw “The Crying Game” (1992), you might recall the big misunderstanding that led to one of the movie’s many plot twists. Evidently such a scenario is very much on the minds of some who have opposed added LGBT protections. One of our local legislators, Rep. Justin Price, R-Richmond, gave voice to these feelings at a hearing Jan. 30 on a bill that would ban the so-called homosexual or transgender “panic” defense in criminal cases. The proposal, copied from California law, would ban the admissibility of evidence that a victim’s gender or sexual identity was a provocation that could “be blamed for the defendant’s violent reaction,” in the words of an American Bar Association resolution backing such legislation. As the Providence Journal reported on Feb. 7, Price spoke for the “heterosexual community” in opposing the bill. He said it would be very disturbing: “Like all of a sudden you think you’re with a woman and then all of a sudden that woman … it’s not a woman.” Price argued that the bill was unnecessary and would eliminate the disclosure of evidence that should be left to judges and juries. Fair-minded people can agree with him on that point while also sympathizing with the legitimate fears of gay and transgender people. In any case, the bill was held for study and is probably dead in this session of the General Assembly.
Police officers typically are young when they start their careers, and become eligible to retire at a comparatively young age. Such is the case for Jeffrey Allen, who is “almost 56” and has decided to step down from his job as chief of the Charlestown Police Department, effective March 1. “I’m not retiring, I just want to experience other things, and I’m looking forward to it,” Allen told The Sun. “I feel like I’m the same 24-year-old kid.” It will be interesting to see if Allen does indeed try something new in the private sector, or chooses to remain in law enforcement, as many of his peers have done. In any event, he can look back on a long record of accomplishment in South Kingstown, and then in Charlestown, where he led a rigorous accreditation process and worked to improve the department’s relationship with the Narragansett tribal police.