Providence dodges a bullet

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

Providence dodged a bullet last Tuesday morning.

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.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics 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. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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7 Responses to Providence dodges a bullet

  1. Tamiflu says:

    The Deputy Prime Minister yesterday predicted the Bahamas had “dodged a bullet”, with Hurricane Irma unlikely to force the Government into emergency borrowing.


  2. Peter Van Erp says:

    If they happened to burn down the RISD North Dorm, I wouldn’t be too sorry. the title of “Ugliest Building on College Hill could revert to the longtime champion, the SciLi.


    • No, Peter, let them burn down the GTECH building. They were right across the street. The choice involves not just the ugliest buildings but the ugliest buildings that disrupt the most venerable local scenery. GTECH qualifies. Rubik’s Cube qualifies. The North Dorm does not qualify. It is well hidden from most angles by its location in the middle of the block (not that it should not come down). The Science Library’s qualifications can perhaps be argued both ways. It is most easily viewed, in all its horror, from the north on Thayer, but Thayer is already pretty fugly even without the SciLi and thus not made much worse by the Brutalist sore thumb.

      That’s my analysis, Peter, and I’m sticking to it. Best if the rioters and arsonists not have to choose, but rather burn them all down. (Tongue no more than halfway in cheek alert!)


      • barry schiller says:

        we need separate post for which buildings in RI we would most like to see removed. If one is willing to look beyond Providence, I suggest consideration of the Orthopedic building in East Providence which is a very visual blight on the otherwise scenic East Bay bike path and Veterans Parkway. Some of the new buildings at Brow might qualify, also the new North Providence “safety complex” adding to Mineral Spring crudscape (sadly, “word” doesn’t recognize “crudscape” as it should based on tis prevalence)


        • Steve says:

          Well, remember that RI and southeastern MA are part of the Providence Metro Area.
          Of course, the vast majority of the beautiful, potentially threatened, and major new buildings are in the city itself.


  3. LazyReader says:

    The Democrats managed to bring back the 1918 pandemic, 1930 Depression and the 1960’s Race Riots all to take down President Trump. And making him more popular. Because the submissive and dismissive behavior against violent rioters inflicting harm on black owned businesses or businesses that may/could employ them or cause damage to the public infrastructure they so need. 80% of the rioters and looters don’t live in the neighborhoods they’re looting. SO local residents and silent protestors are stuck in the crossfire, with an incompetent city government that let it reign out of control. Kneeling, crime, etc. They’ve allowed their cities to Burn, Not a good PR campaign. In particular grossly hypocritical on How they use law enforcement
    Dem Mayors: “If you go to church or protest our lockdown, we will ARREST you!”
    Same Dem Mayors: “If you riot & loot & destroy, & don’t wear masks, WE SUPPORT YOU!!”

    Then they decry Institutional racism? Most of the institutions that serve urban black communities so badly are run by elected Democrats.
    – school districts
    – public housing
    – roads
    – parks
    – welfare
    – police
    – courts
    – prisons
    And you cant Cry “Institutional racism” when the people running the institutions are the people you voted for, CONSECUTIVELY for 10,20,30 years. In the same breath the very people who’ve been in office since the 70’s and 80’s! Decry the institutions THEY now run or help shape, as “racist”.

    And how exactly do you help the black community when an entire entertainment and popular culture; an urban zeitgeist exists that disregards academic rigor, industriousness & law abiding-ness and acquaints it as “Acting White”; subsequently torments anyone including young blacks inclined to be so as “acting white”. Then have the nerve to whine about inequality in positions of power and occupations that require those sort of cultural habits in order to obtain. Leftist’s set up blacks to fail from day one.

    When government who runs your city, have a political motivation to pander to people who’re dysfunctional, poorly behaved, engage in lewd or self destructive acts, their policies do nothing but foster more dysfunctionality, poor behavior and lewd acts and disavowing self respect and personal dignity. Once gone your cities problems of the consequences of people who have zero dignity and self respect……only continue to get worse. And they foster this based supposed racial inequity, equality, socio-economic theory?, the result is they and the media turn a blind eye to any form of disruptive and poor behavior, especially crime… This has three consequences.
    1: Incentivizes those fed up with it to depart for greener pastures (White flight, and Black flight)
    2: Forces government to adopt subsidization of a increasingly immobile and non-working and aging city populace; to great financial detriment.
    3: Expends great initiative to import workers and establish merely service sector public spending as it’s main source of employment
    If academic rigor, industriousness & law abiding-ness isn’t a concern or core value among the populace; who’re you subsidizing? Other than people who are paid to sleep in.

    Combine with it an entertainment and urban culture that glorifies drug abuse, illicit activities, gun violence, criminality and abuse against woman and distrust and enmity against law enforcement, DON’T BE SURPRISED when EXACTLY THAT kind of behavior proliferates in your neighborhood when you encourage Children to Enjoy it. Let me be clear, Floyd did not deserve to die at the hands of the police. Fortunately he didn’t not, he died IN the hands of the police; from a fentanyl induced heart attack; a drug 100x stronger than morphine, with a propensity for killing even first time users. But the deaths from the riots are far more detrimental. Floyd was an addict with a rap sheet for armed robbery with a deadly weapon. Not a pillar of the community.

    “Black Lives Matter” is founded one two lies. 1: That there’s a systemic apparition of law enforcement dedicated to killing blacks. 2: Police involved fatalities are the least subsequent problem in the black community.
    If BLM cared about black lives; they’d dedicate their time addressing the three largest causes of deaths to African Americans (outside health)
    – Homicide / Black on black crime
    – Overdoses
    – Planned Parenthood


  4. Steve says:

    Well said, David.


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