Police: Massive protest in Providence ‘a demonstration for all the right reasons’


PROVIDENCE, R.I (WPRI) ─ Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Providence Friday afternoon in what may have been one of the largest demonstrations in the state’s history.

Providence Police Col. Hugh Clements said this is the largest protest he’s seen in his more than 30-year career, estimating that roughly 10,000 people showed up.

In-Depth: Here’s a timeline of how it all unfolded »

Activists gathered at Kennedy Plaza and ultimately marched to the Rhode Island State House, where they remained for the majority of the demonstration.

The protest stemmed from the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died in police custody after an officer kneeled on his neck for more than 8 minutes, despite the fact he was handcuffed and pleading that he couldn’t breathe. Four officers, including the one who kneeled on Floyd’s neck, have been charged in his death.

Protesters in Providence marched with signs supporting the Black Lives Matter movement while demanding an end to police brutality and systemic racism.

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Meanwhile, the Rhode Island National Guard and State Police, as well as Providence police, stood guard to ensure that the demonstration remained peaceful and nothing got out of hand.

More: Providence firefighter says he was racially profiled by officers »

As the city’s 9 p.m. curfew drew closer, thousands of protesters cleared out, but several hundred remained at the State House. At one point, organizers tried to disperse the remaining protesters, telling them that they “don’t want to know what it feels like to be tear-gassed.”

Throughout the day, protesters periodically chanted “Where’s Gina?” and called for the governor to join them at the rally.

Gov. Gina Raimondo had previously told Eyewitness News she would not be attending the rally, but soon after the citywide curfew went into effect, she appeared on the State House steps alongside First Gentleman Andy Moffit. She thanked the crowd for keeping things peaceful and for “standing up for what matters.”

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She encouraged everyone to go home, but said so long as they remain peaceful, they would not be met with violence.

“No one is going to shoot you for being peaceful,” she said.

Protesters remained at the State House for another hour or so but began to dwindle after members of the Rhode Island National Guard and State Police broke formation.

One protester called the move “symbolic,” adding that the authorities standing down meant protesters made their point that they weren’t there to cause trouble.

“It was nice to see the police stand down,” she said.

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But the demonstration didn’t stop there.

Flanked by police officers in riot gear, roughly 100 protesters marched into downtown Providence and ultimately gathered in Burnside Park before dispersing around midnight.

Providence Police Commander Thomas Verdi said “only a handful” of people were arrested.

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He said the fact that protest organizers were willing to work with police from the beginning “made all the difference” in the outcome.

“This was a demonstration for all of the right reasons and overall it went very well,” Verdi said.

Protester Shaffany Terrell said the demonstration meant the world to her.

“We just want peace and to be treated equally,” she said.

Terrell said she hopes that the demonstration will lead to change and a better world for her future children to live in.

“I want to live in a world where I don’t have to tell my son or daughter not to touch things too much in a store because people are watching you ─ because then you’ll be accused of stealing,” she said.

Protester Amanda Toussaint hopes her children will “not have to worry that they’ll be the next hashtag” while interacting with police. She said Friday’s protest was just the beginning.

“You saw the people of Rhode Island today,” Toussaint said. “We came with love, we came with warmth, we came with good vibes and good energy. We stood our ground. These were our streets tonight and these will be our streets every night.”

Kim Kalunian, Caroline Goggin, Courtney Carter, Shiina LoSciuto, Corey Welch, Johnny Villella, Ryan Welch, Andy Paskowski, JP Smollins and Pete Mangione contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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