PROVIDENCE — As a jury in Minneapolis deliberated whether to convict Officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd last year, local law enforcement said they were preparing for the public’s reaction to the outcome.
In Providence, where murals of Floyd’s image are painted downtown and people have gathered for protests off-and-on since last May, the public safety commissioner and police chief said Tuesday they were prepared for more protests after the jury’s decision.
“In cities around the country, including in this state, people are on edge. Everyone is bracing for what might come with a verdict,” said Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. “We believe in the justice system, and we’ll await as the days in this week go on when the verdict comes out.”
The police have reached out to community leaders, organizations, and activists who may be involved with protests, said Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré. They’ve also been speaking with federal and state law enforcement authorities about preparations for protests and what they could expect. They declined to outline their preparations.
“We believe strongly in the Constitution, the First Amendment, the right of free speech, the assembly, the right to protest,” Clements said. “We encourage peaceful protests and we encourage the proper response. We encourage peacefulness, not lawlessness. The Providence police were always prepared to take the appropriate steps to keep people safe, keep property safe, and to take fair and impartial measures. We know there will be a reaction, and we’re hopeful that we’ll be peaceful, certainly in this city, in this state.”
Last May, after a bystander’s video of Floyd’s agonizing death went viral, the Providence Police Department, the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association, and other local law enforcement agencies condemned Chauvin’s actions.
Clements and Paré said they still consider his actions to be criminal. “I continue to condemn that behavior,” Paré said. “That was excessive use of force that has no place in our profession.”
“From minute one, when that footage was shared, it was shocking. It was wrong. We all knew that it was criminal, and here we are in a criminal trial,” Clements said. “I trust the justice system.”