PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Providence’s public safety commissioner said Thursday police do not have intelligence that violence, looting or riots are planned for Friday, when hundreds are expected to protest against racism in the capital city.
“We have no credible information that there’s any plan for rioting or violence as it relates to this demonstration that’s planned for tomorrow,” Commissioner Steven Paré said. He said police expect a peaceful demonstration but are also ready to respond in case any violence occurs.
“If it does, we are prepared,” Paré said.
The protest was originally organized by high school students, who plan to march from Central High School beginning at 4:30 p.m. to Kennedy Plaza and then the Rhode Island State House.
One of those students, 16-year-old Faith Quinnea, said the protest is all about ensuring young voices are heard.
“I want the people younger than me to look up and see that if I can have a voice, they can have a voice,” Quinnea said Thursday. “I want them to know it’s inside of them. For me, I had to look for it, I had to look for ways to use it.”
Quinnea said she hopes everything goes according to plan and stays peaceful.
“I can’t control everybody out there, but I can try and persuade and advise everybody out there, I can try my best to make sure everybody is on the same page,” she said. “But there may be some that may not have the same objectives as me and I respect that because everybody feels differently.”
Other groups plan to go directly to Kennedy Plaza, where hundreds are potentially expected to gather. Brother Gary Dantzler, the head of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, said while his group did not organize the protest he does plan to attend.
“I’ll come there to support the kids,” Dantzler said. He said he was urging demonstrators to remain peaceful and to leave the streets before the curfew.
“We will do everything that we can so that it’s peaceful, it’s calm and there’s a demonstration that we’re seeing all over this country and hopefully it doesn’t turn violent,” Paré said.
Businesses in Providence were seen boarding up windows on Thursday, preparing in case there is a repeat of riots and looting that took place in the city overnight Monday into Tuesday.
Those riots did not come out of a protest, but appeared to be an organized effort to meet at the Providence Place Mall to loot stores. The people in attendance broke into the mall and looted stores, also doing the same at downtown businesses, and set a police cruiser on fire.
Following Tuesday’s violence, Gov. Gina Raimondo activated the Rhode Island National Guard, who police said will be present for Friday’s protest.
Providence Police Col. Hugh Clements said police will be enforcing the city’s recently implemented 9 p.m. curfew on Friday, and will work to disperse crowds that are out past that time. But he said methods of dispersal like tear gas would only be used in “extreme circumstances” where the crowd gets violent, not solely to enforce the curfew.
“We will take it to the level of enforcing the law if some decide they want to go that way,” Clements said. He said there was a “strong possibility” people will stay out past 9 p.m.
The Rhode Island ACLU has asked Mayor Jorge Elorza to rescind the curfew, arguing it is an “extreme intrusion on the fundamental rights of a community.”
In a letter to Elorza on Thursday, executive director Steven Brown expressed dismay that the city had told restaurants they were exempt from the order while others are forced to stay inside after 9 p.m.
“Despite your order’s claim that this draconian curfew was necessary to protect the city’s residents from ‘severe endangerment and harm to their health, safety and property,’ the danger apparently is not severe enough to interfere with the right of residents and non-residents alike to venture out and enjoy a night of coq au vin with their friends at any of Providence’s admittedly fine dining establishments,” Brown wrote.
Paré described the curfew as a “tool” police could leverage to keep the situation safe.
“So that it is peaceful and it is safe so people can come out and be rightfully outraged about the death of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis,” Paré said.
Police are still investigating the riots that took place early Tuesday morning, arresting a 21-year-old Warwick woman on Thursday who was seen jumping on top of a police cruiser.
Sarah Taylor was charged with four misdemeanors including vandalism and an assault on Captain Luis San Lucas, and pleaded not guilty to the crimes. She declined to comment on the charges.
Detectives are also looking for the suspects who set the cruiser on fire, putting out a photo and video to the public and asking for people to call police if they can identify them.
The day of the riots, 65 people were arrested mainly for minor crimes such as receiving stolen goods or disorderly conduct. Police are still investigating the case and are seeking information on who organized the looting.