PROVIDENCE — A man carrying an anti-police sign at a Black Lives Matter demonstration attended by hundreds at the State House Wednesday was charged with carrying a loaded handgun.
Dennis Torres, 31, of East Providence, was arrested, after another demonstrator saw the gun in his waistband and notified officers at the scene, said Providence Police Commander Thomas Verdi.
When Torres held up his sign, “F*** the Police,” his shirt had raised high enough to reveal the 9 millimeter handgun at his back, according to police.
Harrison Tuttle, the executive director of the Black Lives Matter RI PAC, which had organized the event, said Thursday that he didn’t want the arrest to detract from a peaceful and well-attended demonstration meant to draw attention to systemic racism and police brutality.
“I don’t want it to take way from the great things that happened,” Tuttle said. “There were 400 people, and we can’t control who comes in and who comes out.”
It’s unclear why Torres allegedly had the firearm at the protest. Torres’ sister is one of the community organizers, Tuttle said, and “she feels really, really bad.”
“It was really, really unfortunate, because the event talked about solutions and changes to our problems,” said Tuttle.
Tuttle said he was on the State House steps with the other speakers when he learned that Torres had a gun. “One of our members on the team, Cedric Russell, went to him and said, ‘Hey, could we talk?’” Tuttle said. “I was told he put it back in his car and came back [to the demonstration]. By no means was it a situation where I felt a threat.”
Torres was arrested at the edge of the demonstration without incident, and charged with carrying a firearm without a license, a felony, Verdi said. He was arraigned at District Court Thursday morning, where bail was set at $10,000 with surety. Verdi said the police are tracing the firearm.
The Justice for Daunte Wright event, held in solidarity for the Black man killed during a traffic stop by a white police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, drew a crowd to the State House lawn to hear speakers calling for police reforms, including members of Providence DSA, Reclaim Rhode Island, and Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz, who is running for governor.
Wright had been stopped for an expired car registration, and was killed when the officer, Kim Potter, allegedly confused her Taser with a firearm, according to her chief. Potter quit and is charged with second-degree manslaughter.
Wright died only a few miles away from where George Floyd also died almost a year ago, under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer. The trial of Derek Chauvin, the first of four officers charged in Floyd’s death, is ongoing.
Here in Providence, as more than two dozen Providence officers and state police stood by at the demonstration, speakers advocated for changes and defunding of law enforcement in favor of social programs.
Some spoke about reallocating funds from public safety to mental health services and establishing crisis teams to respond to people in distress, as well as using the funding for housing and health care. They also talked about holding their political leaders accountable, and running for office to make change happen.
“We were unified. I kept repeating, ‘Unified through action,’” Tuttle said. “The protest is unified through action, and changing systemic problems through immediate change, not just incremental change.”
Although the speakers called for less policing, Tuttle said that the arrest was “appropriate.”
”Obviously, you want everyone to be safe,” he said.