PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Providence firefighter Terrell Paci said two officers in the capital city racially profiled him earlier this week.
Choking back tears, Paci, 23, shared his story live on Eyewitness News at 6 p.m. during the protest downtown. He said he was outside the Messer Street fire station talking to a friend who had brought him food when both officers came at them with their guns drawn.
“I was dressed in full uniform and had my radio in hand,” Paci said. “I was like, ‘I’m a firefighter, I’m PFD, I’m one of you’ and they still kept approaching the vehicle with guns drawn.”
“After identifying me as a Providence firefighter, one officer asked if I had a gun in the vehicle,” he continued. “I said, ‘no I am not allowed to carry a firearm while on duty, I am an essential worker and I’m not breaking curfew.'”
Paci said one of the officers asked to search his friend’s vehicle, and she gave him permission.
“The officer then searched the passenger’s side, never checked the driver’s side, nor did he ask for identification,” he recalled. “He then proceeded to continue on and search the back. He then stated that due to the amount of stuff in that’s in the back, he doesn’t want to make a fuss and inconvenience us.”
Paci said the officer then “hastily” got back into his vehicle and drove off.
Hours later, Paci said a Providence police sergeant visited the fire station and apologized for the two officers had done, “and yet the two officers were not present.”
Soon after Paci’s story aired, Derek Silva, the president of the Providence Firefighters Union, took to Twitter, saying, “This situation makes clear that even in uniform, a young black man is not immune from the impact of systemic, institutional racism.”
In an email Friday night, Providence Police spokesperson Lindsay Lague said the department became aware of the allegations on Wednesday and started looking into it.
“As always, we will investigate these allegations,” Lague said. She declined to name the officers, and said body camera footage would not be released until the investigation is complete.
On Saturday, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza responded to Paci’s story.
“Providence Firefighter Paci’s recounting of what he experienced this week is deeply, deeply disturbing,” Elorza said. “We have opened an investigation into this incident and it will receive our full and immediate attention. No one should have to experience something like this and we apologize on behalf of our city for the trauma it has caused. We stand with Firefighter Paci and thank him for his unwavering dedication to a city that he protects everyday through his service.”
Paci was one of thousands to attend a rally in Providence Friday afternoon against racial inequality. He said it’s important not to entice violence, but to entice peace.
“All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing,” Paci said. “And we can’t do nothing.”
Steph Machado contributed to this report.