This is my take. I was there, this is what I heard and saw, but there were hundreds of perspectives at last night’s Ferguson Rally in Providence, so don’t think of mine as definitive. I’ll do more than one piece on this, but I think it makes sense to start near the end, with the protesters jumping over the fence and descending onto the highway, Route 95, where the protesters blocked southbound traffic for about twenty minutes.
After a long march, we found ourselves at the Providence Public Safety Complex, where police officers blocked the entrance, and the protesters proceeded to demonstrate outside. After doing chalk outlines on the pavement like those drawn around murder victims, and after burning an American Flag, (which would surely have been the most controversial moment of the night, had the protesters not taken the highway) there was a small moment of silence as the protesters tried to reach consensus as to what to do next.
Someone said, “We could block the highway.” It sounded like an afterthought.
The statement electrified the crowd.
Almost immediately the crowd dispersed, and a significant number of them, between 100 and 150 by my count, crossed the street towards the highway, jumped the fence, and descended onto the highway en masse.
I might have followed, but I was burdened with a backpack, a video camera on a tripod, and a still camera around my neck. Also, I wasn’t entirely sure I could climb back.
I saw the protesters successfully block southbound traffic, and watched as they attempted to block northbound traffic as well. A state police car appeared almost immediately, and as more and more troopers arrived, they managed to keep the north bound lane clear. I watched from a patch of grass that runs along the outside of the fenced highway, about the width of a sidewalk.
A police officer unsuccessfully tried to tell those on the legal side of the fence that they had to move away, but I held my place, because I was trying to get the incident on video. I was warned several times that I would be arrested if I stayed where I was, but I was breaking no laws. (and was not arrested.)
Down below, on the highway, the protesters were confronting the police. I was told the following by a person who was down there, a white male:
“It was crazy. There were like five of us, three white guys and two black guys. The police, when they came at us, went right after the black guys. They weren’t interested in me at all, and I was right there.”
The police started to make arrests. I’m not sure what the criteria for who was arrested and who was not. I saw at least two people being arrested, but I was constantly being jostled by fence hoppers (now passing both ways) and being pushed from behind by police officers attempting to clear the fence, so I apologize for the shaky footage.
Soon the police corralled the protesters off the highway and then shouted and yelled for them to get on the other side of the fence or be arrested. The police officers were either very angry or pretending to be. There was only a certain speed at which that many people could hop over a fence, and screams and threats were not going to make it go any faster.
After the highway was cleared, I learned that six people had been arrested – four by state troopers and two by Providence police. One young man wearing a white hoodie, was pointed out by the police, who proceeded to surround and restrain him, over the protests of the crowd. The officers put the young man into the back of a police cruiser, but the opposite window of the cruiser was rolled down, so the man jumped through the window and made a run for it.
Here are my photos:
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