PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Lawmakers and police officers across Southern New England are hoping to lend comfort to the officers, families and civilians affected by the shooting attacks late Thursday night in Dallas, Tex., where five officers were killed, seven officers were injured and two civilians were hurt – reportedly by snipers.
In a joint news conference Friday, both senators, the governor, police, mayors and community leaders came together at the West End Recreation Center in Providence.
“We can’t allow ourselves to become callous to the tragedies that these are and to the very real human suffering involved in every single one of these acts of violence. These are families,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said.
She addressed members of the police directly, saying:
“You deserve to be kept safe, you deserve to go home every night to your families at the end of your shifts safely. And to all the members of the community who are here, you deserve to be safe, too.”
Fostering community relationships
The recreation center is where the Midnight Basketball program launched on Wednesday. The program is a community-police partnership focused on making the streets safer.
“We need to build stronger respect and relationships. And as a city we are committed to doing that,” said Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare. “Unfortunately we have others that want to take the opportunity and ambush police officers. They are criminals. They are not a part of the movement that we want to be a part of.”
Kobi Dennis, of the basketball program, said years ago, he didn’t respect police – until he saw the difficulties of the job and the good positive interactions can do.
“Doing your job as a law enforcement officer is riding by young kids, getting out of the car, shaking hands, saying hello, introducing yourself,” he said.
Rhode Island State Police Superintendent Col. Steven O’Donnell was also present Friday – and he said he was talking to police chiefs across the state. The State Police said on their Twitter account they “share in the outrage felt by law enforcement on the vicious attacks and assassinations of our fellow officers.”
Several department accounts shared photos of candles and badges with black tape or bands displayed across them. O’Donnell said the men and women on his force are really feeling the impact of this tragedy.
“They see it, they feel it. And Dallas could be Providence, Providence could be Cranston, West Warwick,” he said.
According to Providence Police Chief Col. Hugh Clements, Jr., officers cannot always be ready for this type of situation.
“You cannot prepare and you cannot train for an ambush. And you cannot be totally paranoid while going out and performing this job,” he said.
Both Rhode Island and Massachusetts lawmakers expressed support for law enforcement in statements.
Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts:
“There must be zero tolerance for targeted violence towards the brave men and women that risk their lives to protect ours. [And] zero tolerance towards the racial inequities deeply entrenched not only in our criminal justice system but in nearly every facet of our society. Zero tolerance for generalizations that cast a pall on the countless law enforcement officials that wake up every day and do their jobs with integrity, courage and compassion. And zero tolerance for the fact that black Americans have been forced to question whether their lives count.”
Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI):
“The officers who were targeted last night were upholding an oath they swore to protect and serve their fellow citizens. They do this every day, knowing full well the risks and dangers it entails. And last night, once the shooting started, these heroes ran towards the source of danger so that others could escape.”
“There has been too much bloodshed in this country this month. We cannot become complacent in the face of this violence or accept these atrocities as the price of freedom. I truly believe we are better than this.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse:
“Law enforcement officers make a solemn choice each day to protect and serve our communities and face down danger in whatever form it takes. The vicious mass murder of officers in Dallas as they went about their duties is heartbreaking and horrifying. I have had the honor to work alongside the brave and selfless public servants in law enforcement, and I grieve for Dallas and all our law enforcement community today.
“The bloodshed in Dallas, and in Louisiana and Minnesota this week, must touch every American heart.”
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell:
I extend my condolences to Mayor Rawlings and to the people of Dallas in the wake of the horrific events that unfolded in their community last night. The flags at all municipal buildings in New Bedford will be lowered to half-staff in honor of the five police officers who were brutally slain while protecting the rights of their fellow citizens to freely assemble and express their views. They were doing exactly what they were sworn to do.
The demonstrators in Dallas were bringing attention to recent acts of apparent excessive force by police officers in other cities. Our prayers go out to the families of the men who were killed in those incidents. These acts are stark reminders that the work of building trust in America’s cities requires determination and understanding, and is hardly finished.