Providence Residents, Police Hope For Common Ground Following National Violence

Jul 11, 2016

Providence residents expressed mixed reactions Friday to a pair of deadly shootings of black men by police and the Dallas shooter, who killed five officers and wounded six others at a protest of police brutality.

Taking a break from his job on a construction site on Providence's West Side, resident Emmanuel Davids said he wasn’t surprised when he found out about the shootings of black men by police in Minnesota and Louisiana.

“This thing has been going on for a long time I think, and the people haven’t heard about it, but nowadays anything that happens in a couple minutes it’s on social media and everybody knows about it,” said Davids.

In both instances, video of the shooting or its immediate aftermath went viral on Facebook and elsewhere. And it appears to have provoked a shooter, who opened fire at police during a peaceful protest in Dallas. Davids believes the attack was an aberration.

“It’s just a few people that have their ideology, or whatever, are fed up, and just acted upon it,” said Davids. “But it doesn’t reflect, you know, the community is not like that.”

Many members of the black community have been quick to denounce the Dallas attack, calling the event a tragedy. Still for some in Providence a distrust of law enforcement remains. Walking with his three young children, resident Ricky Stewart said it’s hard to talk with his kids about the police.

“That’s a tough question,” said Stewart. “I mean because I am black, but how can you talk to them about it? How can you say police are bad? You’re not supposed to because they are here to help. Whenever you need help, we all call the police.”

Stewart wants his kids, ages 6, 7, 11 to feel comfortable around law enforcement. But when asked whether he trusts the police he responds hesitantly.

"You know, I’m not going to say,” said Stewart. “There’s bad people everywhere. There’s good people, there’s bad people. You know what I mean? You can’t single them all out.”

Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements said the violence of the past few days has been hard on police officers too.

“Certainly there’s a lot of emotion, frustration, and more recently, pain in the police community,” said Clements.

Clements characterizes the relationship between residents and the police in Providence as generally good. He credits a community policing initiative, which emphasizes one-on-one interactions between residents and law enforcement.

“It’s been in a good place for a long time, however it’s a day-to-today thing,” said Clements. “I mean depending on the situations going on around the country, and the emotions of that particular day.”

During a press conference Friday afternoon, Governor Gina Raimondo offered condolences to the families of the slain Dallas officers, as well as the two men killed earlier in the week by police. And she told those gathered that Rhode Island needs to address its own racial inequities.

“In Rhode Island, 18 percent of our population is African-American or Latino,” said Raimondo. “45 percent of our prison population is African-American or Latino. We can do better than that. Let’s fix broken systems, so we have a more fair and just Rhode Island.”

In downtown Providence, Janelle Williams stood with a small group of protesters in front of City Hall, holding a poster which read, "hands up, don’t shoot."

“As a black female, a double minority, I definitely felt myself being attacked,” said Williams of the recent videos of police shootings.

Williams grew up in Rhode Island, and said she has firsthand experience with police.

“You know I wasn’t a good child, I’m not going to sugar coat anything,” said Williams. “I was into the streets and fighting. But there was an incident when an officer grabbed my head and slammed it on the hood of his car.”

Today Williams works as a corrections officer in Richmond, Virginia. She said she joined law enforcement to help change what she felt was as racist culture. Ans she hopes she’s making a difference.

“It really goes at lot on how open minded you are to sit down with the face of the enemy and listen to their side,” said Williams. “And I feel like that’s where a lot of it comes from nobody wants to sit down and listen and understand.”