PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The impact of the deadly arrest of George Floyd in Minneapolis is being felt nationwide, including here in Rhode Island.
Floyd died in police custody after an officer kneeled on his neck while he was handcuffed and pleading that he couldn’t breathe. The entire incident was captured on video and has sparked violent protests across the country.
During her daily coronavirus briefing, Gov. Gina Raimondo called the video “hard to watch.”
“It’s such a wake-up call to everyone that we have a long way to go in this country to put a lid on racism and discrimination of any kind,” Raimondo said. “My own personal view is it’s a wake-up call for all of us in whatever walk of life we’re in. If you are a governor, you can do certain things. If you are just a citizen, you do other things. It’s on you to do what you can to stop discrimination and racism in all of its very ugly forms.”
In a joint statement, Providence Police Col. Hugh Clements and Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré called the incident “an inappropriate and excess use of force.”
“The Providence Police Department further condemns the kneeling on the neck or throat as a proper use of force tactic,” the statement says. “This tactic is not part of our training and we constantly review our policies and practices as it relates to use of force to ensure that these tactics are never used by the Providence Police Department.”
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said Floyd’s death “is unacceptable and a call for us to take a hard look at the institutional racism in this country.”
“No one should ever fear for their life when interacting with the police,” he said in a statement. “My heart goes out to the Floyd family and to the many others who suffered similar injustices and should be alive, with us today.”
Sherrod Jones, a community advocate and pastor at Judah Multicultural Church in Providence, said the only way to begin to heal the wounds of the African American community is through justice for Floyd.
Some of that justice was served Friday afternoon when Derek Chauvin, the officer who held his knee on Floyd’s neck, was arrested and charged with murder. He was one of four officers fired after video of the incident surfaced.
There are two rallies reportedly planned in Providence this weekend connected to Floyd’s death. Jones said he hopes they remain peaceful, unlike recent protests.
“We can’t be heard when we are burning down buildings and looting,” Jones said, referencing the burning of the Minneapolis Third Precinct early Friday morning, which is just blocks away from where the incident took place.
President Donald Trump tweeted his response to the riots overnight, calling the protesters thugs and implying that they would be shot by members of the National Guard if control wasn’t established.
“These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” Trump tweeted. “Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
Trump’s comment evoked the civil-rights era by borrowing a phrase used in 1967 by Miami’s police chief to warn of an aggressive police response to unrest in black neighborhoods. Twitter later flagged the tweet for glorifying violence but did not remove it completely after determining it was in the public’s best interest to keep it accessible.
Sen. Jack Reed released a statement regarding Trump’s reaction to the overnight protests, saying now is the time for him to “acknowledge that people are hurting, change is needed and this type of incident must never happen again.”
“To truly serve justice we must combat systemic racism and inequality. America has real issues it needs to confront with more than slogans or staying in our comfort zones,” Reed said in a statement. “This is a time for unity, resolve, and action; not violence, inflammatory tweets, and name-calling.”