The day after Providence saw swarms of people running through its downtown area, breaking windows and looting stores, the streets started to fill up again, but this time, it was with people looking to lend a hand.
“The first thing I want to say to you is that I’m still hearing people say this was part of a protest. This was no protest. This was not associated with any protest.”
She was one of the people downtown, checking on a friend’s business and offering help where she saw it was needed. As someone who regularly attends protests, including the peaceful protest in Providence just a few days earlier, she woke up to the news of what had happened and immediately knew this had nothing to do with the Black Lives Matter movement or people who want to see an end to the violence inflicted upon black men and women by the police.
“This was organized by people who want to tarnish what the protests are trying to do,” she tells me. “These people didn’t have signs. This was a show. They showed up– This was terrorism. Plain and simple. Look at that photo that was all over Twitter the next day. White men. No masks. You know who those men are. We can find them. We know how to find them and so do the police if they want to know who started all this. Let’s see if they do.”
Her friend agreed to speak with me, but she didn’t want her business identified.
“We need to talk about this like it’s two things,” he said, “because there are different conversations happening. People who riot because they’ve had it with not being listened to? I got no problem with that. I understand that. You want to know how many times I’ve been pulled over? You want to hear how I’ve been dragged out of a car in front of my own store three months ago? That never made the news. You want to know why I got dragged out of my car? I didn’t come to a full stop at the sign back there. That’s why they dragged me out of the car and put cuffs on me. That’s what they said. I know I came to a full stop. The conversation about rioting — that’s one conversation about it. The other is that someone sent me a video of these boys trying to loot my store. Three white boys doing it, and I have my sign–”
He points to a Black Lives Matter sign positioned in his window.
“–I have it right there. People angry with the way things are? They’re going to throw a brick through my store? I don’t think so. I saw the video, but I already knew what was going on. The other conversation we need to have is about people who are using this movement to stoke fear. The president went on television and said ‘If things stay bad then I’m coming in with tanks.’ What goes on after that? His people go, ‘Let’s keep it going then.’ As in — as in, let’s keep it bad. Then our guy gets to take control. Because they know he’s losing. They know he’s on the way out, and they’re running out of time. That’s what all this is.”
As he’s speaking, I notice a man approach him. They embrace, and the man asks what he can do to help. They speak for a few minutes, and the man ends up going inside the store to talk to a few others who showed up earlier that morning and were already hard at work.
“You believe that,” the owner says to me, turning back to me. “That’s been happening for hours. People poking their head in — strangers — wanting to help. I’ve been seeing that — I went for a walk to clear my head and I was seeing that all through downtown. I saw the news saying this was a war zone. This isn’t a war zone, this is our neighborhood. This is where we live. They tried to bring a war here, and they had to do it in the middle of the night like cowards. That’s what cowards do. Now it’s daylight and look what you got. All these people saying, ‘You broke some glass and you broke things that can be replaced and swept up. You didn’t break us though. You didn’t break the neighborhood, did you?’ They want everybody to stay in their houses and be afraid. Look at all these people coming out of their houses.”
A woman who had been up all night watching the news unfold drove downtown before work and ended up calling in, so she could stay and help out.
“I was just like– I was up crying and panicking. I don’t live anywhere near here, but you know, Rhode Island is so small. I’m down in — I live down in Exeter, but watching the news last night, I was like– This is my home. All these Joe Rogan wannabes are trying to trash my home. I don’t care about these big businesses, that’s not what it’s about. I don’t care if you knock over an ATM, but you walk through the streets with weapons and you try making people feel unsafe and then you act like you’re the same as people who want the police to stop killing people? This was an attack and seeing some of those smug faces thinking they fooled everybody and we don’t have their number– It was too much for me. I talked to my husband this morning and we talked about how when you feel afraid you think to pull back and hide and stay away from the city until all this blows over. But I worked in Providence for 26 years. I’m not going to be scared to go into Providence. All it took was me getting a phone call from my girlfriend who still works down here and she told me people were helping clean up and I told her I’d be there and I got in my car and went. My boss knows where I am. I– Believe it or not, I think he’s down here too. I’m going to keep coming to Providence. This is going on everywhere, and you can’t hide from it. You need to educate yourself and you need to help support the people who are doing the right thing and see that no more families have to watch a video where they see their father getting murdered for doing nothing. I didn’t feel safe last night, but there are people who feel that way every day. There are people who feel that way every morning when they wake up. They can’t walk down the street — and it was going on last night. The police were arresting black people last night who weren’t doing anything and you have a guy on Facebook who took a video of him trying to loot these businesses, and why isn’t he in jail right now? I’ve had it, and I’m– That’s all I can say. I’ve had it. I’m ready to help. Let’s do something.”
One store owner called me over as I was walking back to my car and showed me a jar full of money on their counter. I assumed they were pointing out how crazy it was that nobody had grabbed it. The counter is easy to see from the street, and a few of the windows had been busted. They told me the jar hadn’t been there before, and that they had to go find it in the back, because people kept coming in and asking to donate money. The jar had only been out for about two hours and it was already full. The owner told me they would use it for their deductible, and whatever was left open, they’d donate to a BLM-supported cause.
“That’s how we do it, right,” they said, still looking at that jar filled to the brim with support. “You get it and you give it back. That’s the only way to do it.”
Before I could ask them to elaborate on that, someone came in off the street and asked if they needed any help.
So I guess I got my answer.