Providence dodged a bullet last Tuesday morning

Photo: Business owners, workers, and the excellent clean & safe crews of the Providence Downtown Improvement District clean up after Tuesday morning’s downtown riots. (WBUR)

By David Brussat, Architecture Here and There

That’s the good news. For all the horrifying videotape, rioters managed to do little real damage to downtown. Lots of glass was broken, boosting the local glass and plywood industries. There were a couple of small fires set to little effect. The bad news is that more bullets to be dodged may be on the way.

Tuesday afternoon, my heart in my throat, I crossed the College Street Bridge into downtown. To my joy, I found few busted plate glass windows and little graffiti on buildings along Westminster Street, the site of much looting and vandalism. Many windows had already been replaced, no doubt, and tags erased. No buildings were missing. Downtown looked pretty good, given the events mere hours earlier.

The next day, no rioting having ensued the night before, downtown looked far worse. I drove in and was appalled to find that many buildings, uninjured by looters, had been sheathed in anticipatory plywood, with pre-emptive “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice No Peace” slogans painted on the plywood by business owners eager to propitiate the mob. One can hardly blame them.

The plywood sheeting went up because protesters were expected downtown for a rally on Friday, starting at Kennedy Plaza and marching up Francis Street to the State House. Organizers promised it would be peaceful, but even they could not assure it would not degenerate into a “mostly peaceful” event. And shop owners were not willing to gamble that local police would be any more effective than on Tuesday morning, when they appeared to perform with max timidity imposed from above. So up with the plywood.

The rally, which attracted 7,000 marchers,* turned out to be entirely peaceful (so far as I’ve heard). The weekend saw no renewed rioting or looting. But the media were full of reports from around the country that demands for “change” were beginning to focus on the idea of eliminating or defunding police departments. City councils in Minneapolis, New York, Los Angeles and other places were falling in line all weekend long.

And in Providence? Crickets.

Governor Raimondo emerged late Friday evening to face protesters crying “We want Gina” and was greeted with chants to “defund the police,” but she did not respond. Good for her.

I haven’t seen any reporters trying to dig up the opinions of local pols on this topic. Well, why not? I suspect our enterprising journalists understand that a Raimondo or an Elorza (governor and mayor) can’t win by taking a stand either way. If they oppose axing the Providence Police Department they’ll get pummeled by the “woke” elite. Just get a load of poor young Jacob Frey’s humiliating perp walk after the supposedly “woke” Minneapolis mayor was booed by protesters for coming out against axing the MPD. But if they come out for axing the PPD, they’ll get pummeled by voters, followed, if such a proposal advances, by a mass exodus of what’s left of the city’s tax base.

So, we’ll see if Providence is able to dodge this next bullet coming along. Local news reported all Wednesday that the rioters’ goals included burning down the State House and Providence Place. In their dreams! I can only wonder what kind of news sources gave rise to these journalistic scoops.

Frankly, the State House and Providence Place will survive. Providence is still too beautiful to sacrifice in the name of a false narrative. But there’s a whole lot of stupidity out there these days, so you can never tell.

*As estimated by the State Police; the organizers said 10,000, the media said tens of thousands.

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David Brussat

My freelance writing and editing on architecture and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call (401) 351-0457