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Police clash with protesters at PVD/Cranston border



Police officers were not targeting bad actors, they were targeting anyone in sight, whether they be peaceful protester, bystander, biker, media, legal observer or medic.

[Update: Media is reporting at least seven arrests. See here, here and here for other accounts. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s office tells me that there is no press conference pertaining to Jhamal Gonsalves scheduled for today.]

On Wednesday Uprise RI reporters Will James and I (Steve Ahlquist) set out to cover an action held to protest the arrests of the 21 people arrested Tuesday evening at an event to demand justice for Jhamal Gonsalves, a young man in a coma at Rhode Island Hospital after a police cruiser impacted his moped.

Wednesday night’s protest began at a small park on Sackett Street, from where about 40 people marched to the police sub station on Broad Street to call for the defunding of the Providence Police Department, Justice for Jhamal, and justice for the 21 people arrested the night before, including, it seems, Jhamal’s cousin, who after being arrested by police on Tuesday was also hospitalized and is also fighting for his life at Rhode Island Hospital.

After leaving the police substation, the protesters began marching up Elmwood Avenue, towards Bissell Street, the place where Jhamal Gonsalves was so grievously injured. Those marching were accompanied by several reporters besides the two from Uprise RI. The television stations all had crews out, as did the Boston Globe and the Providence Journal. The march was also accompanied by legal observers from the National Lawyer’s Guild, there to monitor the event for civil rights.

At the Bissell Street location, there were bike riders present, perhaps there because of what happened to Jhamal only a few days before. I never got a chance to ask, actually, because also there, filling Elmwood Avenue between Bissell Street and Route 12, were at least six Cranston Police Cruisers and over a dozen Cranston Police officers blocking the road completely, in both directions. For some reason, the Cranston Police decided to cut off travel to and from Providence on Elmwood Avenue.

Protesters stayed back, and formed a line, linking arms. From behind the protesters, bottles were thrown at the police. State Police showed up, adding to the police presence, and eventually Providence Police Department personnel were on hand as well. As tensions mounted and more objects were hurled at the increasingly large police presence, a State Police officer, the same man responsible for the use of pepper spray on the highway and in Dexter Park during recent protests, stormed the protesters, indiscriminately pepper spraying people. This officer was assisted and accompanied by several other police officers.

The protesters scattered, but reformed further up Elmwood. So indiscriminate was the use of pepper spray, that the police officer who began using the pepper spray could be seen dealing with its effects as the police line reformed. Later, as the police again rushed towards protesters, I saw what appeared to be a Cranston Police Officer suddenly stopped in his tracks by pepper spray.

Those the pepper spray was aimed at, protesters and innocent bystanders, fared much worse. I saw a woman stripped down to her bra, drenched in pepper spray, as medics and friends poured bottle after bottle of water on her eyes. She was crying in pain. I did not record her in such duress.

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Reporter Will James was also hit by pepper spray. It permeated the mask he was wearing, but fortunately I carry spares in my bag. Still, he had to discontinue narrating the livestream for several minutes as he worked to dismiss the effects of the pepper spray.

Here’s Will James’ livestream:

The police formed up their line, and began to march towards the protesters, telling them to back up or be arrested. Occasionally the police would surge forward and arrest seemingly anyone on the street. Press, National Lawyer’s Guild (NLG) legal observers, and clearly identified street medics were targeted for arrest, as were protesters and bikers.

At this time I don’t know how many people were arrested. I do know that street medics, who were treating people drenched with pepper spray at one moment, were tackled in the street and arrested. I saw Providence Journal reporter Mark Reynolds trying to take a photo with his phone, only to be threatened by two baton wielding, helmeted police officers. [Update: Reynolds did not mention this encounter in his piece about the event.]

A woman at the scene provided me footage of an NLG legal advisor being arrested, despite the fact that she was wearing her identifying bright green cap. [Update: YouTube has removed the video for violating the company’s community standards, but you can download and watch the video here.]

Police were indiscriminate in their use of violence, arrest, and pepper spray. I felt bad for the police dog, because i think it was hit by pepper spray as well. Police officers were not targeting bad actors, they were targeting anyone in sight, whether they be peaceful protester, bystander, biker, media, legal observer or medic. One member of the press seemingly not targeted by police was a local right wing radio host wearing a ‘Blue Lives Matter’ style cap. He was not required to flee from the police.

Below is some video I captured, starting with when the protesters approached the PVD/Cranston border:

Here’s the first round of pepper spray used:

After a police vehicle was vandalized in some way, the police responded by charging protesters, again with pepper spray. At about the 20 second mark you will see the police officer suddenly affected by pepper spray. Everyone on the street was now required to move away from the police officers.

The few remaining protesters decided to form a smaller line and approach the police officers. They linked arms and to the best I could tell, represented no threat. The police responded by forming a line and telling everyone to move back. They did this several times, making arrests and reforming the line several times.

At one point though, officers suddenly surged forward and tackled someone. Despite being told to hold the line and reform the line several times by their commanding officer, many police officers ignored these orders in the heat of the moment to make arrests. At the 20 second mark you can hear a sound, like the smashing of glass or plastic. I’m not sure what it was, but it came from the place where a dozen police officers were making an arrest. This video is stabilized because I was running, and frankly, a little shaken.

The police surge forward again. I retreated, letting them know I was press. This video is also stabilized.

See also:

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.

Freelance Journalist and Visual Artist, and Video Producer for Uprise RI. If you would like to support my work directly my username on CashApp, Venmo, Zelle, and PayPal is "willconns".