‘This was a mob, this was not protesters’: 9 officers injured, 65 arrested during violent night in Providence

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Violence and destruction erupted in downtown Providence overnight which resulted in dozens of arrests, several police officers hurt, businesses looted and a police cruiser being torched.

Gov. Gina Raimondo and other state and city officials held a news conference late Tuesday morning to address what happened. She began by reminding the public how proud she was to be a Rhode Islander after seeing and hearing about the peaceful protests held over the weekend.

“I stand before you disheartened, dismayed, outraged, and angry at the events that we saw last night right here in the city of Providence,” Raimondo said. “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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The governor noted how people showed up armed with crowbars, gasoline, flares and other items to intentionally hurt people and destroy property.

Having seen the damage to businesses that are just reopening after being shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Raimondo assured the owners that the state will help get them back on their feet.

She also announced she’s activating the R.I. National Guard to assist state and local police in the coming days.

Mayor Jorge Elorza announced late Tuesday afternoon that he has issued a citywide curfew beginning Tuesday night. Elorza said the curfew, which will be in place until June 9, will begin at 9 p.m. and end at 6 a.m.

“This is not a decision that we take lightly and this is not a decision we make easily,” Elorza said.

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Both Warwick and Cranston have also issued citywide curfews beginning at 8 p.m. after reports of “planned violence” surfaced on social media. Central Falls and Pawtucket soon followed suit – issuing an 8:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, after hearing similar reports about their communities.

East Providence also issued a citywide curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

In a statement, the Rhode Island ACLU said called 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.”

It all started when hundreds of people gathered outside the mall to demand justice for George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died in police custody after an officer kneeled on his neck while he was handcuffed and pleading that he couldn’t breathe. The incident was captured on video and has since sparked protests around the country.

Rhode Island State Police Col. James Manni said he received a tip around dinner time Monday of a “planned disturbance,” calling it a coordinated attack by anarchists trying to come into the city and take it over.

As a result of the tip, Elorza said the mall decided to close at 7 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. and city police were on alert. Elorza said even though police were in place ahead of time, the number of people was almost impossible to stop.

By 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, throngs of people blocked off Francis Street, meeting a line of officers in the middle. Police continuously tried to clear the area but were met with resistance.

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The situation escalated when they stormed the mall with officers giving chase. People could be seen running toward storefronts on the first floor, looting and causing damage.

Officers were seen working hastily to block off the entrances to the mall. Police said about 200 to 300 people were trying to get inside but only about 75 to 100 were successful.

More than a dozen businesses inside the mall were looted and vandalized, according to police. The mall had just reopened to customers on Monday after it was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Police said the looters were not inside the mall for long, since they were able to drive them out toward Cranston Street.

Target 12: Suspects in Providence riot appear in court »

In total, Elorza said 65 people were arrested, of which 35 were from Providence, five were from Massachusetts, and the rest were from other Rhode Island cities and towns.

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More: ‘Violence is never the answer’: Elorza speaks out after overnight violence »

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré told Eyewitness News that nine police officers and troopers were injured after bricks were thrown at them. Four were from the Providence Police Department and five were from the Rhode Island State Police.

Some of the officers were treated for minor injuries on scene while others declined treatment.

Paré said police deployed “less than lethal tear gas” when a large number of people started throwing bricks and other objects at officers.

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More: Providence police react to violent scene overnight »

Around 1 a.m., people began targeting police cruisers; they could be seen smashing the windshield and windows of one outside the mall before lighting it on fire.

Officials said five cruisers were damaged in all, including the one that was set ablaze.

The crowd eventually dispersed outside the mall, however, looting and vandalism continued elsewhere in the city.

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Related: State vehicles damaged by vandals outside of DCYF in Providence »

Paré said there was one report of shots fired, but didn’t identify who that came from or if there was any truth to the report.

“This was a mob, this was not protesters,” Manni said. “This was an intentional, coordinated attack on the city and once gas was deployed, they dispersed into the streets into the neighborhoods.”

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Tuesday’s violence differs drastically from the protest held this past weekend where thousands marched peacefully through the streets of Providence.

Caroline Goggin, Rob Nesbitt, Corey Welch, Ryan Welch, Johnny Villella, Brandon Truitt, Alexandra Leslie and Justin White contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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