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Governor says violence in Providence was ‘not a protest,’ it was 'an attack'

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The violence in downtown Providence on Monday night came to dominate Gov. Gina Raimondo’s daily coronavirus briefing, despite an earlier briefing focused on those events.

“I just spoke at length about violence,” Gov. Raimondo said. “Life is going on, we are still fighting a global public health pandemic, and we are focused on doing everything we need to do to keep you safe from coronavirus.

“But there is clearly lot of pain, suffering, and anger in the country, and Rhode Island is not immune to that.

“What happened in Providence was not a protest,” she said. “It was an attack on the people of Rhode Island by people who came here intent to attack … at a time when our small businesses are barely back on their feet.”

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott spoke briefly about how in many ways the issues underlying the national unrest and the impact of Covid-19 are very related. “There are higher rates of Covid-19 in communities of color, and there are inequities in communities that go back many generations,” she said. “It is part of public health to call out structural inequities, including structural racism.

“Covid exposed those inequities.”

Reporters’ questions were almost exclusively focused on last night’s violence. The governor was asked if she regretted not sending the National Guard, which she activated today, in advance of last night’s riots. “”No,” she replied. “You can’t send in the Guard every time you hear a rumor on social media that there is going to be a gathering.”

She focused her message in response to the remaining questions on two things — one, she is very pleased with the professionalism of Providence Police and the Rhode Island State Police, as well as assisting agencies. “They have now arrested 70 people out of a couple hundred,” with more arrests anticipated. “State and Providence Police were prepared and professional … but for their courageous and proactive action you would have seen a much worse situation. These people came here to blow up the mall, and torch the Statehouse. We were prepared.”

Second, she was clear that the people who coordinated the attack last night were not related to Black Lives Matter. “This was not a protest. It was led and funded by someone or some group who came here with the specific goal of wreaking havoc,” she said. “We are still trying to figure out who this group was and what their priorities were. This attack has a different feel and we don’t know what it is.

“I’m still proud of the 1,000-plus people who peacefully protested over the weekend. What happened last night was not that. What they did was wrong. I’m angry, frustrated, and determined to hold them accountable. They didn’t even pretend to protest. They came here for one purpose. To set our city on fire.”

The governor emphasized that the Rhode Island National Guard is more than capable of adding this security operation to their Covid-related duties.

“We have plenty of capacity, and they are, to a person, unbelievable, real professionals,” she said. “They do this because they love our state and they are ready to serve.”

Gov. Raimondo plans to make an announcement later today, outlining plans for the Guard’s security of critical infrastructure, as well as to announce if a curfew will be enacted. “It is exactly for that reason I activated the Guard, and we are going to significantly activate throughout the state.

“I want you to not be afraid,” she said. “We are going to do what we can to keep you safe. I cannot say that bad things won’t happen, but we will spare no resource, we will be vigilant, and we will keep Rhode Islanders safe.”

She also reiterated that she wants Rhode Islanders to remember to be kind to each other. “We are a small, connected state of communities and neighbors. We managed Covid well because we look out for each other, and I’m going to ask you to continue to do that.”

She highlighted the United Way’s #bekindRI statewide challenge, asking Rhode Islanders to share acts of kindness on social media now through June 20, with #bekindRI. “Let’s do it,” she said. “Post your acts of kindness, and let that inspire others.”

“I am tired and frustrated, but I am filled with hope that we will do what it takes and come through this,” Gov. Raimondo said.

“We can see light at the end of the tunnel and we can get through stronger, more united, and more resilient than ever.”

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.