Curfews imposed, National Guard activated following violence
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo activated the National Guard and major cities imposed curfews on Tuesday in response to unrest in Providence that officials say was not a protest over the death of George Floyd, but an organized effort to cause destruction.
No one will be allowed on the streets after 9 p.m. in Providence for the next week, unless they’re first responders, considered essential workers, media, experiencing homelessness or seeking medical treatment.
Cranston and Warwick, meanwhile, imposed curfews starting at 8 p.m. while Pawtucket and Central Falls issued 8:30 p.m. curfews. Police and other law enforcement officials were also deployed to major malls in Cranston and Warwick to deter looting.
A crowd of hundreds of people that the head of the State Police described as a “mob” smashed storefront windows, stole merchandise, broke into the Providence Place Mall and torched a police cruiser in the predawn hours Tuesday.
More than 60 people were arrested and as many as 10 police officers were injured when they were hit by rocks or bricks, authorities said.
“What we saw last night was not a protest,” the Democratic governor said at a midday news conference. “What we saw was an organized attack on our community.”
The people who caused the damage were not protesting the death of Floyd, the Minneapolis man who died after a police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air, authorities said.
Police received intelligence several hours prior to the violence that people were coming from out of state armed with crow bars, flares and gasoline, state police Col. James Manni said.
He described them as “organized anti-government people.”
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, a Democrat, said five of the people arrested were from out of state.
The destruction could have been much worse, Elorza said. Because of the advance notice, 60 state police troopers as well as 60 city officers were deployed to the area around the Providence Place mall before the crowds gathered, Manni said.
The trouble started at around midnight when a crowd of 300 to 500 people gathered in the street outside the mall, police said.
Hundreds of people tried to get into the mall, overwhelming police on the scene, city Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said. About 75 to 100 people made it inside. Police entered the building and forced them back outside, he said.
Manni said the intruders intended to set fire to the mall.
At about 2 a.m., police deployed tear gas to disperse the crowd, but fireworks and sirens continued to be heard in the city for hours, according to media reports.
None of the hurt officers was seriously injured, Pare said. In addition to one police vehicle that was burned down to its frame, several others were damaged, he said.
The mall, which reopened Monday after closing in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic, was closed again Tuesday, according to its website. A spokeswoman for the mall operator said the building sustained some “storefront damage” but no fires were set.
Businesses outside the mall were also vandalized.
Police officers from several other Rhode Island communities, as well as a contingent of 15 Massachusetts State Police troopers, also responded to the scene during the course of the night.
Eloza said he was heartened by the response of many city residents, some of whom were out on the streets as early as 5 a.m. helping sweep up glass and debris. He said two residents stood in front of a clothing store in the city and told the vandals to go home.