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Discord in Providence Monday Night: “These folks were out to cause trouble”

Providence mayor Jorge Elorza pictured here at a Bike to Work Day event in Burnside Park, May 15, 2015.

If you’re a Providence resident who woke up this morning, the city looks a little bit rougher. Overnight looting starting at the mall and fanning out downtown went on until the wee hours of the morning. Mayor Jorge Elorza, Police Safety Commissioner Stephen Pare, and other city leaders held a press conference in front of city hall this morning at 8am.

Mayor Elorza began talking about the struggle for justice for George Floyd and the unspooling felt around the country last week. He said he’s been to a lot of protests and that he doesn’t believe the people last night were protesters. “These folks were out to cause trouble.”

There was chattering on social media for much of yesterday that something was going to happen at 11pm at Providence Place Mall. It closed early, and state and Providence Police increased their presence around it. Crowds began congregating en masse around midnight. Around 60 people got into the mall and began smashing windows and damaging security systems of more than a dozen stores. According to Pare, law enforcement got them out of the mall. Some folks vandalized a Providence police car with ACAB graffiti (stands for all cops are bastards), launched fireworks into it and then set it on fire. Sometime after, law enforcement fired tear gas to disperse the crowd around Francis Street. Roughly around or after that time, various groups of people began smashing windows and looting downtown businesses.

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Five police cars were damaged in addition to the one on fire. Police had one report of shots fired, but were not sure if it was related to the looting last night. Fewer than a dozen officers were injured last night, as some protesters/looters threw bricks or bottles at them. The mayor said it could be worse; there were several attempts to set fires, but the worst around downtown this morning is large amounts of shattered glass.

The mayor announced this morning they had arrested 65 people. Thirty-five were from Providence, five were from Massachusetts and the rest were from various towns around the Ocean State. The charges are not clear. Elorza said, “Hard to believe it wasn’t organized, but you never know with social media.” Many people in the crowds (not necessarily the looters) were livestreaming events on various social media feeds.

Elorza said he and Governor Gina Raimondo would be discussing appropriate measures later today. He acknowledged nothing is off the table, including a curfew. The governor is set to give her COVID briefing to the press today at 1pm. When asked if Eloza would avail himself to President Trump’s office of deploying the United States military, he flatly said no.

“We were as prepared as we could be,” said Pare. He emphasized the need to have discussions with hurt, marginalized communities, to resolve tensions in a way that doesn’t cause injuries to officers, civilians or protesters. Pare said Providence police were in contact with the organizers of the protest scheduled for Friday, and he believed they are separate from last night’s group.

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