Hearing shots ring out on Saturday night at the crowded downtown PVDFest was pretty rattling for a lot of people present. The person who fired into the air was identified from higher resolution security camera footage as Michael Robertson, 24, from Riverside. He was considered armed, dangerous and at large for almost two weeks after he was identified. Earlier today [June 24], the Providence police have reported that he turned himself in.
Motif was also able to track down a reliable witness who was at the event. He’s actually a dot in the background of the video that’s been circulating, but we won’t say which dot, as he spoke with us on condition of anonymity. He witnessed the events leading up to those captured in the video.
Anonymous Witness (AW): “We were headed toward the Dunkin Donuts on that street to meet some friends. As we were passing that corner, a crowd was starting to gather. It looked like a fight was about to break out, so we were on high alert. We saw a back-and-forth between one gentleman and another gentleman that quickly turned into a brawl between four people and one individual.”
Mike Ryan (Motif): “Was it four-on-one or … ?”
AW: “It started one-on-one and then it turned into four-on-one. Or it might have been three-on-one, but it was definitely multiple people. This gentleman was quickly on the ground, and he was swinging back and trying to defend himself as much as he could against the others hitting and kicking him. Then I saw three more individuals come at a fast pace toward where the fight was. They went right by us, and I heard one say to the others, ‘Hey, I have a ratchet.’ Which in street terms means he was strapping [ie had a gun].
“They were heading to the fight. When I heard that I was immediately alarmed, and told my girlfriend and other friends, ‘Let’s head toward KP — something nasty’s about to happen.’ The crowd started to congest more and more. Then shots rang out. I had to be less than 20 feet from the actual guy. He fired upwards, and the assailants who had been on the first gentleman obviously scattered. There was a lot of commotion. A building that led to a parking garage had a security guard who opened the door so people could flee inside. I shoved my girlfriend through the door … but I stumbled, and there were a lot of people trying to get into the building. I found myself under about 20 people, from which I do have quite a few bruises. I was afraid I’d be trampled, but I managed to get out from under. One of the gentlemen involved in the fight actually got into that parking garage and went out through the back.
“But he [the shooter] was less than 20 feet away when he shot in the air. I took it as, instead of firing at anybody, I think he just wanted to alert the people in that fight. It looked to me like he was trying to interrupt a larger meeting that was commencing. That’s how I took it. I still think it’s a careless act. But if anybody saw the events leading up to it, that’s what he was trying to do, as opposed to just being a knucklehead.”
MR: “Can you describe the guys who were involved in the brawl?”
AW: “The gentlemen involved in the brawl all had to be between 18 and maybe 25.”
MR: “There wasn’t anything obvious, like some of them wearing red and some white or anything like that?”
AW: “A lot of them were wearing red. I heard a couple of streets were shouted out.”
AW: “You know, streets and neighborhoods. Like “south side.” I don’t know if it was gang related, but that lead me to think it might have been something that was already brewing. You know, territorial. But it could have been somebody else in the crowd [shouting], being stupid or trying to be a bandwagon guy, when they had no business being a part of it. But in my experience in Providence, they were definitely related to territory. But the unfortunate gentleman, he got caught slippin [away from his crew]. RI is notoriously territorial. That’s most of the reason you get shootings (except for females or drugs). I think Providence [Police] needs to do more to understand the segregation between street signs to understand the tension that builds up to violent crime in RI. In Providence, at least. The way that works, by the street signs, is that they can’t really explore or look for anybody they have a problem with, outside of their streets. They seek events like PVDFest, like the Dominican festival, like PRIDE, like the Puerto Rican Festival, where it’s a complete mash-up of everyone. That’s when they can cross territorial borders.”
At the time of this writing there is debate about whether PVDFest will happen again next year. The City Council is reviewing the budget for the City, and some members have made noise about cutting the festival for budgetary reasons. The mayor’s support for the event is well known, but mayor Elorza is also known for being pragmatic and responsible, especially compared to his predecessors, when it comes to making budget decisions.
It is this writer’s sincere hope that the festival will be renewed – although its management is notoriously chaotic, and no one should go thinking their schedule will be a useful guide to what’s going on around them, it brings a great burst of energy and civic pride to the city, and is a much needed example of “walking the walk” when it comes to the city embracing its “Creative Capital” moniker.
The shots fired at the event on Saturday night do not seem to factor into that decision making, and they should not. That is a totally different issue, and the fact that a significant police presence was on the scene within just a few minutes seems like a successful reaction to the situation.
PRIDE, arguably the biggest single event to take place in PVD during the summer, passed without significant violence (there was even a police contingent in the PRIDE parade), which is promising for the future of events in the city.