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Governor Raimondo activates National Guard, mayors impose curfews after night of destruction in Providence

Mayors in Providence, Cranston, Warwick, Central Falls, Pawtucket, East Providence enact curfews beginning Tuesday night

Plywood partially covered the smashed front window of a clothing store on Westminster Street in downtown Providence.
Plywood partially covered the smashed front window of a clothing store on Westminster Street in downtown Providence.Amanda Milkovits/The Boston Globe

PROVIDENCE -- As store owners swept up broken glass and boarded over smashed windows in downtown Providence after a night of looting, Governor Gina M. Raimondo said Tuesday she was activating the Rhode Island National Guard to assist state and local police in case of another outbreak of violence.

The mayors of four cities announced they were imposing curfews starting Tuesday night, based on information about another possible wave of violence. The malls in Cranston and Warwick were closed Tuesday afternoon and entrances were barricaded.

Providence: Mayor Jorge O. Elorza set curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., starting Tuesday and lasting through June 9. The only exceptions are first responders and emergency medical technicians, people traveling to and from essential work, people who are homeless, people seeking medical treatment or medical supplies, police officers and firefighters, and members of the news media.

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Cranston: Mayor Allan W. Fung announced a curfew starting at 8 p.m. Tuesday through 5 a.m. Wednesday, also with exceptions. By late Tuesday afternoon, concrete barriers were placed across all the entrances and exits at Garden City mall, and Cranston police were posted there.

Warwick: Barriers also went up outside the Warwick Mall and Rhode Island Mall, and police were posted there as well. Mayor Joseph J. Solomon said a curfew is in effect in his city between 8 p.m. Tuesday and 5 a.m. Wednesday, with exceptions.

Central Falls: Mayor James A. Diossa imposed a curfew, with exceptions, from 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through 5 a.m. Wednesday “after receiving intelligence regarding potential acts of looting and rioting targeting the City of Central Falls.”

Pawtucket: Mayor James R. Grebien announced a curfew, with exceptions, from 8:30 p.m. Tuesday to 5 a.m. Wednesday “out of an abundance of caution for our residents.”

East Providence: Mayor Bob DaSilva imposed a curfew, with exception, from 9 p.m. Tuesday to 5 a.m. Wednesday “due to information received for the potential of increased criminal activity in East Providence.”

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Raimondo held a news conference late Tuesday morning outside the Providence Place shopping mall, where dozens of people had forced their way inside and ransacked stores, and others torched a Providence police SUV parked outside the mall.

The destruction had spread rapidly throughout downtown, where people shattered glass storefronts, spray-painted graffiti, and stole liquor, sneakers, and clothing, as alarms blared and sprinklers opened up on looted stores.

The mayhem started late Monday with what was purported to be a protest over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer last week.

But the governor and police leaders say this was no protest. They described it as a loosely organized mob that planned the looting spree and destruction.

In fact, leaders of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island made it a point to distance their efforts from the looters, telling WPRI-TV that “They’re not part of our protest. They’re separate, and they are rogue. If the race relations were better, it would have prevented a lot of what happened last night.”

This was not like the peaceful protest that drew nearly 2,000 people to the State House on Saturday, a gathering that made Raimondo say she was “proud to be a Rhode Islander.”

“But today I stand before you disheartened, dismayed, outraged, and angry at the event we saw last night right here in the city of Providence,” she said Tuesday. “Make no mistake about it: What we saw last night was not a protest. What we saw last night was an organized attack on our community, at a time when we are already vulnerable."

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Instead of protest signs, this group showed up with tools for destruction, the governor said.

“What we saw last night was people who arrived with flares, with gasoline, with crowbars, who showed up intentionally with their weapons to cause destruction and violence,” Raimondo said. “They came here with an intent to harm, with an intent to disrupt, and an intent to destroy.”

Colonel James Manni, superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, blamed the destruction on “organized anti-government types,” such as “anarchists” and members of “left-wing radical groups” and “Antifa-like” groups.

He said the actions were "violence with one goal in mind. It was an organized, coordinated, planned attack on the public safety and the infrastructure of this city.”

Manni said the group also wanted to target the State House. He said he believed the Providence police prevented the looters from burning down Providence Place mall.

The police were knew the group was planning to strike Monday night, so nearly 60 state troopers and 60 Providence police were on hand.

The “protest” appeared to be planned around the shift-change for Providence police, so Police Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. said held over officers from the earlier shift so that there were about 80 to 100 officers on duty. He also asked other local police chiefs for help. Pawtucket police held over their earlier shift of officers, and East Providence, Woonsocket, Warwick, Cranston, Johnston, and North Providence police were also on hand, he said.

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When groups of people started arriving at the mall, he said, things happened fast.

Looters broke into downtown stores and banks, tried to pull out ATMs, and grabbed bags of clothes, shoes, skateboards, and alcohol. Businesses with “Black Lives Matter” signs in their windows were smashed open.

A Providence Police SUV was set on fire near the mall and at least four other vehicles were damaged. Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said law enforcement found itself “overwhelmed" with people forcing their way into the mall, finally smashing inside, running through the building and looting between 12 and 18 shops.

“We were as prepared as we could be last night,” Pare said. “Unfortunately, there were too many people that wanted to create violence in the city.”

Police arrested 65 people overnight for vandalism and looting, catching some allegedly with bags of stolen goods in their hands and packing their car trunks. The suspects arraigned Tuesday at District Court included 35 people from Providence, 25 from other cities and towns in Rhode Island, and five from Massachusetts. All but five were males, making up a diverse crowd that ranged in age from a 15-year-old Providence boy to a 32-year-old man from Boston, facing a variety of charges from disorderly conduct to felony breaking and entering.

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A police prosecutor described their alleged actions in court: a Johnston teen filling a BMW bag with stolen jewelry at Providence Place mall; a Providence man with a trunk filled with stolen shoes and clothes outside a looted store; young men with boxes of cigarettes and Nikes during what Magistrate J. Patrick O’Neill described as a “very bad night.”

As bad as it was, Raimondo said later, it would have been worse without the police and state troopers. She thanked them for putting themselves in harm’s way, and thanked Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts State Police for sending troopers and a helicopter to support local officers.

“This is a pivotal moment in our history, as a state and as a country,” Raimondo said. “I don’t know if anyone of us has ever lived through anything like this — this combination of a global public health pandemic and this level of division and violence in our communities at the same time.”

She said people have good reasons to be angry and frustrated, and she encouraged people to continue fighting for justice. But, she said, “I’m asking you to rise above the violence.”

The Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association issued a statement Tuesday condemning the officers involved with the slaying of Floyd and offering their support for peaceful protesters.

Providence Police Chief Clements and Commissioner Pare had condemned the actions of the Minneapolis police last week and offered condolences for the death of Floyd. Manni also said the video of Floyd’s death made him “sick to my stomach" -- both for the loss of Floyd’s life and for the impact he feared it would have on police and community relations in Rhode Island.

Raimondo said hundreds of members of the Rhode Island National Guard were going to help the police protect “critical infrastructure."

While she didn’t say how or where they would be deployed, the governor said, “I am prepared to take all necessary steps to keep the people of Rhode Island safe."

Steven Brown, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, issued a statement, calling the curfews “an extraordinary and overly broad action that, ironically, can only promote the types of discriminatory police actions that have prompted peaceful protests this past week.”

Meanwhile, shop owners came into their businesses, after a sleepless night, and got a look at the damage wrought during the night.

Guido Silvestri, who has owned the skateboard and clothing store Civil on Westminster Street for several years, said he’d gotten a tip Monday afternoon that there could be trouble, so he packed up his most valuable sneakers and skateboards, as well as cash. There wasn’t time to board up the large windows facing the street.

“We tried to do what we could and hope for the best,” Silvestri said. “And then around 1:45, I got a call from my alarm company. I knew what was going on.”

Some store owners said they were awoken by their business alarms going off around 2 a.m., but there was nothing they could do. Jerry Ehrlich, who owns Eno Fine Wine on Westminster Street, said he called the police when he learned the alarm was going off.

“They said, ‘Do not come down!’” Ehrlich said. The looting was at its height at that time. He waited until sunrise and finally went to check on his store. The glass door had been smashed open, and the floor was covered in broken glass and puddles of liquor from where the thieves had swiped the counters of alcohol. “They were looting,” Ehrlich said. “They were stealing.”

A security video from 2 a.m. shared with the Globe by Eno’s manager, Aubrie Talarico, showed people smashing the glass door and getting inside. For over an hour, the camera filmed multiple people stumbling in and out, grabbing what they wanted, as people outside ran by.

At around 2:30 a.m., several men, heads covered by hoodies, came in together and filled their bags with liquor.

She pointed out that they appeared to have prepared for the looting since they were carrying flashlights. They also targeted the most expensive liquor in the store, she said.

Around 3:30 a.m., Mark McCauley had rushed down to his store, St. Pierre’s Shoes on Washington Street, after his sister called to tell him the store was on fire. He pulled up and saw people running up and down the street, being chased by police officers. His large store windows were smashed open and shoes and boxes were scattered in and out of the store. Someone had tried to light it on fire, and though the fire smoldered, the store sprinklers put it out.

But the scene was captured on cell phone video, posted on social media, that showed people running in and out of the smoky store, and some screaming to women living in a second-floor apartment to get out.

Later Tuesday, McCauley was looking at the damage, standing by his broken windows where someone had spray-painted in red “No peace,” when a customer called to him from the sidewalk.

Carlos Cedeno, of Providence, told McCauley that he’d “cried like a baby” when he saw the city torn apart that morning. “This is not a protest. This is not justified. This is not equality,” Cedeno said. “This is vandalism.”

City residents who came to see the damage said they were “heartsick” and angry about what happened. Customers and other residents pitched in to help the owners sweep up broken glass.

When Silvestri opened his skateboard shop, finding cleared racks of clothing and shoes, there were people from the neighborhood ready to help him clean up the debris. Nicky Estrella, who frequents the shop, and a friend Gus Adu-Gyamfi, who performs as a deejay D-Wun, grabbed brooms and started cleaning before Silvestri’s employees arrived.

“It’s a small city, and everyone knows everybody, and we got hit hard,” Estrella said. “But there are a lot more helpers than there are rioters.”

They were worried about this shop and others that were looted, so many that are locally owned and had just started to open up after being shuttered by the coronavirus. This hurt, they said.

“It’s heartbreaking, because you think about the small business owners. They are scared and trying to bounce back after months and months of closure,” said Doris De Los Santos, who works for the city. “And it has been shattered for many of them.”

The cleanup of shattered glass and ransacked stores on Westminster Street began in downtown Providence this morning.
The cleanup of shattered glass and ransacked stores on Westminster Street began in downtown Providence this morning.Amanda Milkovits/The Boston Globe

Many had attended Saturday’s rally for Black Lives Matter, a largely peaceful event that drew nearly 2,000 people to downtown and the State House.

The event last night had nothing to do with civil rights or justice, they said. “The concern is what’s going to happen tomorrow, or the next night," said Elise Mischel, whose shop Luli Boutique on Hope Street was untouched, but came down to see the damage at friends’ businesses. “These gangs of criminals don’t care about peace and community. They just want to steal from us.”

Evans Mondesir, a former Marine who was out walking Tuesday morning with his two young sons, said he was looking for a uniformed officer to speak to. He found a tired Chief Hugh Clements standing near the looted businesses on Westminster Street.

Mondesir at first wanted to know what the chief thought about how the violence originated. Clements told him they still didn’t know, just that it seemed well organized.

Mondesir wanted to make something clear: “Personally, I feel like I can vouch for every black person in Providence and say we had nothing to do with this.”

“I fell in love with the city, and I’m not happy with what’s being brought to the city I love,“ said Mondesir, who lives with his family in Washington Park. As he spoke to the chief, people drove by and waved, and one yelled, “God bless the Providence Police.”

The two men talked about their love for Providence, and how awful it was to see people destroy it. And that it had nothing to do with the larger conversation, about race and police relations.

“What happened last night was not a peaceful assembly to further a conversation,” Clements said. “It was complete lawlessness.”

“It was a whole different ball of wax,” Mondesir agreed, “and I just want to make sure you’re aware of that.”

They ended their conversation with a fist bump.

Dan McGowan of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.


Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com