By DANIEL KITTREDGE and LAURA WEICK Rhode Island was rattled by violence and looting that unfolded in Providence overnight from Monday into Tuesday, spurring calls for peace and assurances from local and state leaders that steps will be taken to ensure
Rhode Island was rattled by violence and looting that unfolded in Providence overnight from Monday into Tuesday, spurring calls for peace and assurances from local and state leaders that steps will be taken to ensure the safety of residents in the event of any additional unrest.
Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung were among the local leaders to issue curfew orders for their communities starting Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning.
Rumors circulated on social media Tuesday that Cranston’s Garden City Center and the Warwick Mall might become new targets for rioters. In the hours that followed, an extraordinary scene played out as police from various communities, along with members of the National Guard, stepped up their presence at those locations and Cranston’s nearby Chapel View development. Throughout the night, helicopters could be heard overhead in many local neighborhoods.
The night passed quietly, without a repeat of the chaotic scene in Providence or any major incidents. Warwick Chief of Police Col. Rick Rathbun on Wednesday said police dealt with a handful of minor incidents, although he did not elaborate.
Fung on Wednesday afternoon said based on talks with the command staff of his city’s police department, there would be no curfew for Cranston on Wednesday night. As of the Beacon’s press time, Solomon had not announced any additional curfew.
On Tuesday morning, gathered at the interaction of Francis Street and Finance Way in Providence, Gov. Gina Raimondo, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and Rhode Island State Police Superintendent Col. James Manni addressed the looting and violence that took place in the state’s capital city – seeking to clearly distinguish it from the peaceful demonstrations held over the weekend.
“What we saw last night was not a protest,” Raimondo said. “It was not a protest. What we saw last night was an organized attack on our community at a time when we are already vulnerable.”
During her regular COVID-19 briefing later in the day on Tuesday, Raimondo expanded on the Providence rioting, calling it a “coordinated, criminal attack on the people of Rhode Island.” She said Rhode Island State Police are working with federal officials and Massachusetts law enforcement to determine who precisely was behind the previous night’s chaos, suggesting the “hundreds” of participants were “led and funded by someone or some group.”
Asked about the Garden City and Warwick Mall rumors, she added: “It’s hard to know what are legitimate threats … We are assuming, based on what you’re seeing around the country, that there could be more, and we’re just increasing our response.”
The governor also sought to reassure anxious Rhode Islanders, including those in suburban communities, that the state will be prepared in the event of more unrest.
“If you’re at home … in Cranston, Warwick, Johnston, wherever, and you say, ‘I’m afraid,’ I want you to not be afraid. We are going to do what it takes to keep you safe,” she said. “I can’t necessarily prevent bad things from happening, because they may. We are in an unprecedented period of unrest in this country right now. But I will assure you that we will be ready. We will spare no resource.”
During Wednesday’s briefing, she reiterated her prior remarks and said the origins of the Providence unrest remain under “active investigation.”
“The tactics that were used here are eerily similar to the tactics that are being used all across the country … We need to hold everyone accountable who engages in violence,” she said.
The governor on Wednesday said the previous night was “overwhelmingly peaceful” thanks to the efforts of state and local police, the Rhode Island National Guard and municipal leaders.
“Last night was a very peaceful night here in the state of Rhode Island. It could have been much, much worse, but it wasn’t because we were prepared,” she said.
She added: “We are monitoring, we are using every tool at our disposal for constant surveillance around the clock. We are as vigilant as possible … We know what we’re doing, we are on it, and I am prepared to do what is required to keep Rhode Island safe.”
Raimondo said on Tuesday she visited several of the Providence businesses affected by the looting, calling the scenes “heartbreaking.” Many of the businesses, she said, had just reopened after weeks of closures due to the pandemic response.
A Black Lives Matter demonstration is planned for Friday in the state’s capital city, and Raimondo was asked Wednesday whether she planned to attend. She expressed hesitation, given that she has issued guidelines calling for social gatherings of 15 or fewer due to COVID-19, but suggested she may make an appearance “on the outskirts.” She also announced that going forward, Department of Health personnel will be present during large demonstrations to share information and resources and distribute face masks.
“I support the cause completely. We’re up here saying no groups larger than 15. I’m not going to lie, we’re in tough spot on this one,” she said.