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RI CRIME

As protests against killings by police continue, some look to refocus on Rhode Island

Black and brown people are being killed in Rhode Island as well, the head of the Nonviolence Institute says — but not by police. Why aren’t we protesting those deaths?

About 100 people gathered in Providence Monday April 19, 2021, to protests against police killings of black and brown people nationwide.
About 100 people gathered in Providence Monday to protest against police killings of Black and brown people nationwide.Amanda Milkovits/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — About 100 people gathered at the State House for a vigil and march through the city Monday evening in the name of Black and brown people killed by white officers across the country.

Demonstrators held signs demanding justice for 13-year-old Adam Toledo, a Latino boy shot by police in Chicago on March 29, body-worn camera video which was released this week shows. They called for justice for Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man shot during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb on April 11. They called for justice for George Floyd, and said they had no faith in the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with killing him.

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At the protest organized by Black Lives Matter RI PAC and the Party for Socialism and Liberation — the second in less than a week — people again called for defunding or abolishing the police.

About 100 people gathered in Providence Monday April 19, 2021, to protests against police killings of black and brown people nationwide.
About 100 people gathered in Providence Monday calling for justice for 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was killed by police in Chicago in March.Amanda Milkovits/Globe Staff

“Black and brown people continue to be murdered by police,” said activist Enrique Sanchez.

They recited the names of every person killed by a police officer nationwide. “To be a Black boy at this moment is to have all of your bones broken, and stand,” one young woman said.

As he listened, the executive director of the Nonviolence Institute wished protesters would pay similar attention to the young men dying on Providence’s streets, at one another’s hands.

“In Rhode Island, it’s not the police killing our children. It’s Black and brown children killing each other,” said Cedric Huntley. “And the community is traumatized.”

Just in the last week of what’s becoming a violent year for Providence, two men were killed and three others were wounded in shootings.

Joshua Costa, 31, of Lincoln was the city’s fifth homicide victim, murdered April 16 in a gunfight at an auto body shop on Harris Avenue. Isaias Bulus Jr., 21, was shot to death on April 12, as he sat in a car in Elmwood. His older brother had been murdered just three years earlier.

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Another man was shot and wounded at Bulus’ makeshift memorial. Two more men were shot on Hawkins Street April 15; one was in “very critical condition” and fighting for his life Monday.

Their families mourn, and some take their place in an epidemic of violence that has gone on for generations in Providence.

No one marches in their names, Huntley said. Their memorials are often just candles on a sidewalk.

“Nobody is saying anything about the kids who get shot. I think they are missing it,” Huntley said after Monday’s rally. “I would love for every time Black or brown kids are killing each other, I’d love to see them out there protesting.”

Cedric Huntley is executive director of the Nonviolence Institute.
Cedric Huntley is executive director of the Nonviolence Institute.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

There’s a sense of resignation and acceptance of violence in communities plagued by the ongoing attacks and deaths, he said, in a way that there isn’t in affluent communities.

“They become desensitized and they are touched by this violence, because their brother, son, cousin, is a victim of the violence and it becomes real to them,” he said. “The trauma that they experience comes out in retaliation and a never-ending cycle.”

Huntley opposes the movement to defund or abolish the police. “That is not something the Institute feels is a viable solution to this violence. Actually, it’s really violent,” he said. “If violence happens, the only people that are equipped in our community to deal with it and respond to it are the police.”

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Most of the shootings appear to have twisted connections, some going back generations. He would rather collaborate with the community, the families, and the police to figure out how to intervene in the violence that’s claiming the lives of the city’s young men.

“We can talk about gun violence, high capacity magazines, the guns on the street, but it’s the people we have to reach that are creating this,” Huntley said. “It’s a small percentage, but it impacts the whole community.”

And, he said, the whole community needs to take responsibility for stopping the violence, not just the police, the street workers, the social workers. It’s not just someone else’s problem.

If more people get involved and care about what’s happening in their neighborhoods, take initiative and responsibility when they see something wrong, they could prevent tragedy from striking other families, Huntley said.

Right now, those families are suffering alone.

At the protest at the Rhode Island State House Monday night, activists demanded that the mayor in Chicago resign over the shooting death of Adam Toledo. One young woman recited all the things that the boy would never grow up to do, because he was shot by a Chicago police officer. “Children aren’t born to die,” she said.

And Huntley thought about the children growing up in Providence, and what some of them are enduring.

“Black and brown kids are killing each other, and nobody is protesting,” Huntley said. “Nobody is standing next to the mothers. Nobody goes to the vigils. Nobody.”

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Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.