Protesters gathered in front of the Providence Public Safety Complex on Saturday night, with law enforcement in riot gear standing a block away. One hundred and fifty mostly young people came out to protest police brutality and called to defund the police.
The rally’s original intent was to show solidarity with the city of Portland, Oregon. Portland has been the epicenter of massive demonstrations in the past few weeks, with protesters clashing with police. In response, President Donald Trump sent unwanted federal border patrol agents into the city. Last night’s march in Providence was also spurred by the arrest of two counter-protesters, Najeli Rodriguez and Jonas Pierre, on Thursday night. The two were counter-protesters at a cancelled “Defend, not Defund” rally in Providence that was in support of law enforcement.
Around 8:45pm, protesters marched down Broad Street toward South Providence before circling back to Classical High School where the march ended. Protesters commonly wore black t-shirts and face masks or bandanas. Police were armed in riot gear, with plastic sticks and shields.
The march, while mostly peaceful, was punctuated by small acts of violence. Police driving their cruisers played chicken with a line of demonstrators, who sat down in front of the vehicles. The response of the police was to roll rapidly toward them, as if to hit them, before breaking sharply. No one was hit. In another incident, protesters surrounded a van, alleging law enforcement had pulled one of their own inside. Different protesters threw water bottles and glass bottles at police. Overall, police report they arrested five people in total at the march.
Protesters used bicyclists as spotters during the march. They rode in front and behind, communicating with marchers on police movement. Notably, some protesters also picked up litter as they went long. For the most part, law enforcement remained a decent distance away from demonstrators. They had vehicles positioned ahead and following the protesters.
On a few occasions, marchers stopped to link arms and briefly block traffic. “White people, please stand in front to help protect our Black people,” was one of the repeated instructions to the crowd. Along the way, protesters consistently chanted, “Whose Streets? Our Streets!”, “Black Lives Matter!”, “No Justice, No Peace!” among others.
It was still Saturday night in Providence and the streets were far from empty during the march. People came out to watch the protesters and cheered. Drivers in their cars honked their horns in support of the protesters, making it hard to hear anything else. The people who Motif interviewed were generally supportive of the protest. “I like it a lot. I think this is great and needed,” said Rugah, one of the onlookers last night. “We need better justice.”
Additional reporting by Amanda Grafe