PROVIDENCE — Amid the roar of revving motor bikes and the acrid smell of burning rubber, hundreds of people protested on Tuesday night in the name of Jhamal Gonsalves, a moped rider who remained in critical condition after crashing while trailed by Providence police.
Members of Gonsalves' family joined in the 6 p.m. rally at the Knight Memorial Library, and as the sun set, motorcycle riders took to the street, setting off on Elmwood Avenue amid sparks and plumes of smoke as the crowded chanted, “Justice for Jhamal!”
Gonsalves, 24, of Middletown, was among a large group of motorcycle, moped, and ATV riders that were riding on Elmwood Avenue on Sunday, followed by the police. An investigation is focusing on whether a police cruiser struck the moped or hit a stop sign that then slammed into Gonsalves.
Gonsalves' stepfather, Bernard Tribble, stood on the stone steps of the library alongside Gonsalves’ mother, Tia Tribble, and other family members, urging protesters to remain peaceful.
“This is about justice for Jhamal Gonsalves,” he said. “If anybody came out here with a different agenda, you need to go home.”
But by 9 p.m., protesters were throwing bottles and other objects at the police, and one officer had to be taken to the hospital after an object hit his helmet, Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré said.
“It certainly wasn’t peaceful when they are throwing objects at police officers,” Paré said.
As of 10:30 p.m., seven people had been arrested and a group of at least 100 protesters gathered at the Providence Public Safety Complex. Police in riot gear emerged and police cruisers flooded streets around the station. By 11 p.m., Paré said, 15 to 20 people had been arrested, protesters around the complex had been setting off fireworks and throwing objects at police, and about 125 city and state police were on the scene.
Warning: this video contains profanity.
At the library, Tribble had told the crowd that violence solves nothing. “But if we march peacefully and show the love and the unity among us, we will get justice for Jhamal,” he said.
Tribble criticized the Providence police, saying, “There was no reason for that officer to run down my stepson.” He accused the police of dragging Gonsalves “like he was some kind of animal” while he was unconscious on the sidewalk after the crash.
“The community is tired of the police continuously hurting our young people,” Tribble said.
He called out Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza and Governor Gina M. Raimondo, saying neither of them has called his wife or other family members to offer support.
While those elected leaders are seeking the support of voters, he said, “They need to support the community. They need to stop police brutality against young Black men.”
In an interview, Tribble said Gonsalves remains in critical condition, fighting for his life in Rhode Island Hospital.
“He’s not doing too well,” he said. "His brain is swelling. They have a tube in it to drain the fluid out of his brain.”
Tribble said Gonsalves is a former Middletown High School football player who was planning to become a professional motocross rider and is engaged to marry his high school sweetheart.
“He’s a great stepson,” he said. “I love the kid to death. It really tears me up to see him like this.”
Tribble said there are rumors about lawyers calling the family to pursue a lawsuit, but that’s something for Gonsalves to consider when he is healthy.
“It’s not about the money,” he said. “We are worried about him.”
Earlier Tuesday, Paré said the investigation of Sunday’s crash is zeroing in on whether a police cruiser struck a stop sign that then slammed into the moped or Gonsalves.
“That is what we are looking into,” Paré said. “That is a focus of our investigation.”
Tribble said he believes the police cruiser hit both the stop sign and his stepson.
On Sunday, Providence police were responding to calls reporting groups of 300 or more dirt bikes, ATVs, and mopeds buzzing through various parts of the city. Paré said that at about 6 p.m., police were following a group down Elmwood Avenue when Gonsalves crashed – flipping over his handlebars and slamming to the ground.
A cellphone video of the episode shows a police cruiser following Gonsalves' small, black moped closely on Elmwood Avenue as it swerves around another cruiser and turns onto Bissell Street.
Amid the sound of squealing tires and a loud crash, the camera pans away for a split second before capturing the image of the moped driver hurtling onto the sidewalk – missing the crucial moment that may have shown whether the police car hit the moped. Almost immediately, bystanders started yelling that the police car had hit the moped from behind, causing the accident.
The Providence police have vowed a thorough investigation involving the attorney general’s office and the State Police, saying they expected to issue findings in about two weeks.
The officer at the wheel of the cruiser, Patrolman Kyle Endres, has been assigned to desk duty.
Early Tuesday morning, the father of the moped rider, Mark Gonsalves Sr., posted a Facebook update from Rhode Island Hospital.
“Jhamal Gonsalves is fighting just to remain stable,” he wrote. “He is in a coma that is not self-induced by medical staff and doctors. They made an attempt to bring him out of his coma, which was causing his body too much stress. He has swelling of the brain as well as bleeding in the brain in multiple areas of his brain.”
The first 72 hours will be the most critical in determining if his son has “a fighting chance,” Mark Gonsalves wrote. “I wish I could change places with him,” he said.