PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A number of people started gathering near the Providence Place Mall around midnight Monday night into Tuesday morning for a peaceful protest — until things quickly turned violent.
Looting and vandalism were reported at many storefronts and a Providence police cruiser was also set on fire.
Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare told Eyewitness News that several police officers and troopers were injured and treated on scene after bricks were thrown at them.
“There were a couple of police officers who were injured and a couple of troopers as well, by either bricks or objects thrown at them,” Pare said. “They are fine; the extent of their injuries, we are not quite sure at this point.”
Pare said he spoke to some community leaders at 1 a.m. trying to calm things. He noted the peaceful protest on Saturday that went well, but said the scene overnight was planned.
“We were alerted [before the incident occurred] that something may have happened last night, so we geared up as much as we could getting Providence Police officers, and State Police officers in the city, and unfortunately around 11-11:30 there were 200 to 300 mostly young males that went and breached the Providence Place Mall, started looting the mall and causing damage inside.”
Pare said that about 100 people went inside the mall. Officers were able to regain control inside and outside at Francis Street and Finance Way, halting the damage and chaos for a couple of hours, he said, but people were still able to surround the police car outside 1 American Express Plaza and set it on fire.
“We were with State, Providence, and nearly 100-150 police officers and we appreciate the mutual aid that was sent from Cranston, Woonsocket, North Providence and Johnston, and I am going to forget a department but they sent police officers here and we needed all that help,” he continued.
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Once the people dispersed from Francis Street, they moved into the city, mostly downtown, went up on Broad Street and damaged some businesses on Thayer Street, Douglass Street, and a couple of other pockets in the city.
Eyewitness News asked Providence Police Col. Hugh Clements his reaction to the protests around the country and more specifically in Providence.
“It was a real bad night in the city of Providence and we are thankful for the cooperation and assistance we got from outside departments including the Rhode Island State Police,” Clements said. “Several officers were hurt with minor injuries but a lot of arrests.”
Clements condemned the use of force in Minneapolis from day one, but says that it doesn’t reflect the actions of police officers in the city and all over the country.
“The restraint was great tonight, but as well we were pretty active in making arrests where we could make arrests,” Clements said. “We were just completely overrun at certain points and when they broke up from the mall area, they just entered downtown; there were pockets, as the commissioner said, of 10 or 12 or 20 and were causing damage, senseless damage.”
Pare continued saying the Providence and State Police did deploy ‘less-than-lethal’ tear gas when a large number of people started throwing bricks and objects at officers.
“I understand the pain, and I understand the feelings particularly of black young men in this country, but this doesn’t get us anywhere when you hurt police officers and when you burn buildings and cause destruction. I get there is anger, I am angry, but this is not the solution,” Pare said. “I engaged with them, I tried to rationalize with them that before someone gets hurt we understand your pain and we feel your pain to the extent that we can, but this is not the solution.”
Clements was asked about how the black men and women officers in the city are dealing with the situation.
“Many of them grew up in Providence, they went to schools in the city of Providence, I’m sure they’re feeling a lot of pain right now — we haven’t had an opportunity to brief on this incident. But this was senseless,” Clements responded. “This wasn’t a protest, this was all senseless violence in the city that does not help at all.”