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Rhode Island governor says Floyd’s death represents a ‘call for action’ to combat racism

Raimondo condemns State House vandalism but says protesters’ ‘outrage needs to be heard.’

An estimated 2,000 people angered by the death of George Floyd held a rally at Burnside Park in downtown Providence and then marched to the steps of the Rhode Island State House where members of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island gave speeches.
An estimated 2,000 people angered by the death of George Floyd held a rally at Burnside Park in downtown Providence and then marched to the steps of the Rhode Island State House where members of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island gave speeches.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE -- The death of George Floyd, the Black man who died last week after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, should spur everybody to ask what they can do as individuals or institutions to combat racism, Governor Gina M. Raimondo said Monday.

“What we are seeing now -- the violence, the unrest, the anger -- is the result of very deep wounds, real wounds,” Raimondo said in a conference call with reporters. “Obviously, they’re not going to be fixed overnight and are not going to be healed by one person or one action. But it is a call to action for all of us.”

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Raimondo did not make any specific proposals or say what actions should follow.

“People like me have to do a lot more listening with humility before we can commit to specific actions,” she said, adding that she especially wants to listen to teenagers and people in their 20s because “we are seeing that is where a lot of the anger is.”

Raimondo said that “as a white woman of privilege,” she doesn’t know what it’s like to be afraid to go for a jog or to be discriminated against or attacked because of the color of her skin. But others live that reality every day, she noted.

On Saturday, about 2,000 people took part in a rally to protest Floyd’s death, marching from Burnside Park to the State House steps.

In response to reporters’ questions, Raimondo condemned the acts of vandalism that took place after most of the group had left, but she said the protest was “99.9 percent" peaceful.

“This was absolutely predominantly a very peaceful protest,” she said. “I want to commend the protesters. Not only were they peaceful, they all had their masks on and were socially distant. Actually, I felt proud to be a Rhode Islander because they were speaking out against injustice in a way that was nonviolent.”

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She said the State Police are the investigating acts of vandalism, which included shattering two glass doors and spray painting the State House building and steps. “Vandalism in any form is unacceptable,” she said.

But, Raimondo said, “We need to acknowledge what’s driving the vandalism and the outrage — and acknowledge it’s very legitimate fear and anger. So while I don’t condone the vandalism and those who broke the law will be held accountable, their fear and outrage needs to be heard, and we need to address it.”

Raimondo expressed support for journalists, noting reporters around the country are being attacked and arrested as they cover protests.

“I hope you’ll have the courage to continue doing what you are doing," she said. "I will say, that as we are living through these truly unprecedented times, your jobs are more important than ever.”

In an apparent reference to President Donald Trump, Raimondo said, “As your profession and your work is being disparaged and dismissed by public leaders at the highest level of our nation’s government, I want you to know you have my respect and support.”


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com