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Police in riot gear prevent Federal Hill restaurant patrons from viewing peaceful protesters



Why can’t we take the street? We’re protesting. It’s our right,” asked the woman on the megaphone, prompting the protesters to begin chanting, “First amendment!” at the police officers.

Protesters once again took to the streets of Providence Friday night to oppose recent police brutality in Rhode Island spawned by the police cruiser/moped impact on Sunday that put 24-year old Jhamal Gonsalves into the hospital and into a coma. The protest was also in support of Jhamal Gonsalves’ cousin Jaylon Butler, who was arrested by Providence Police at Tuesday’s protest while having a seizure. Butler then suffered another seizure inside the police transport van. At least 29 people have been arrested by police during the protests, including two medics, a legal observer, and a lawyer. Reporters have been sprayed with chemical weapons. (See here and here)

Friday’s protest was calmer than those of Tuesday and Wednesday, with activists marching and confronting the police, but with no altercations and no arrests. The march began in the parking lot for the high schools on Westminster Street, stopped by the Providence Public Safety Complex where Jaylon Butler, released from the hospital and from police custody, addressed the crowd. After leaving the Public Safety Complex the march continued on towards Atwells Avenue, but were repeatedly blocked from marching onto the street by members of the Providence Police Department, wearing full riot gear and backed by officers in camoflage bearing military grade weapons.

After being rebuffed from entering Atwells Avenue three times, the march continued through downtown Providence, and arrived back where it began.

Will James has the livestream, followed by selected scenes and some context from Steve Ahlquist:

Protesters arrive at the Providence Providence Public Safety Complex:

Jaylon Butler was escorted to the front of the crowd by members of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, including Executive Director Gary Dantzler.

“I want everybody to have a peaceful protest,” said Butler. “What happened to me the other night, that’s still under investigation. But I’m here, I’m walking, that’s really all that I – When the whole thing happened all I could think about was coming back home to my daughters and God has blessed me to walk, talk, feel, see, and talk to my daughters and spend time with my kids.

“I feel as though our point was proven the other night. We came and we protested. What happened after that was beyond my control. I can’t control that. I’m just here today to tel everybody I’m not here for violence. I don’t want anybody else to protest with violence because at the end of the day I don’t want anybody else to have what happened to me, happen to them. I want everybody else to go home, see thee families, see their children, and live to see another day.

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“Like I said, I’m here, I’m walking, and they can’t do nothing to hold me down,” concluded Butler.

After leaving the Public Safety Complex the protesters marched towards Atwell Avenue, and past many police officers from both the Providence Police Department and the Rhode Island State Police. Most of the police sported riot gear and helmets, and wielded batons.

As the protest passed beneath the gateway pineapple leading towards the restaurants on Federal Hill, police in riot gear could be seen blocking the road, preventing acess. At past marches, protests like this have walked up and down Atwells Avenue peacefully, briefly stalling traffic and chanting at restaurant patrons.

Activists continually asked members of the police why they were not wearing masks to prevent the spread of Covid. Police mostly did not respond.

After not being allowed to enter Atwells Avenue, the protest moved to a side street, and attempted once again to take their protest to restaurant patrons. Once again the police blocked their way.

“I really want to know why people that supposedly protect and serve us are lining up like we are the agitators, like we are armed, like we have riot gear on,” said a woman on her megaphone. “The whole fucking system is bad and until we tear it the fuck down it will never serve us until we the people that have been oppressed and marginalized take it apart and rebuild something that works for us and was built by us, we will always fucking suffer. And I am tired of suffering.”

The march made a third and final attempt to enter Atwells Avenue from America Street, stopping between Africa Street and Atwells. There the protesters lined up opposite the police line, chanting.

“Why can’t we take the street? We’re protesting. It’s our right,” asked the woman on the megaphone, prompting the protesters to begin chanting, “First amendment!” at the police officers.

The stand off lasted over ten minutes before the protesters began to back away from the police.

Longer video of the same scene:

“If she were Black she’d be going to jail!”

After being prevented from stepping onto Atwells Avenue to continue their protest, activists encountered a woman who was visibly upset about not being able to drive down America Street. As the woman complained, activists called her “Karen” and told her to get back in her car. The woman took special exception to being photographed by one of the many photographers and reporters in the vicinity. After police officers ordered her to get back in her car and back away, the woman suddenly left her car and physically attacked a cameraman. Activists suggested the woman was drunk. Certainly she had poor judgement. Despite having assaulted a cameraman, the woman was ordered back into her care and as the protest passed, she could be heard asking the police officers why she was the person who might get in trouble.

One protester noted that, “If she were Black she’d be going to jail!”

The woman was allowed to leave the scene by the police.

The truck

A white pickup truck was seen a few times by activists during the march. In the video below you can see the truck at a stoplight. As protesters passed, the truck suddenly accelerated, nearly hitting several protesters. The driver of the truck was linked to white supremacy by Antifash Gordon. The truck had a Blue Lives Matter style bumper sticker. The police detail following the protesters did not impede the truck, or question the driver.

Go home!

As the march continued on through downtown Providence, a man with no sense of irony yelled “Go home!” from high up at the Omni Providence Hotel. This was met with laughter from those in the march.

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About the Author

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".

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.