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Providence Protesters Break Into Mall, Loot Stores, Burn Police Cruiser

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CBS) - A protest in Providence turned into a riot overnight when demonstrators set a police cruiser on fire and then broke into the Providence Place Mall and looted shops there.

A group of up to 300 people showed up outside the mall around 11:30 p.m. Monday, supposedly to protest the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, when things fell apart quickly.

providence riot
A Providence Police cruiser was burned outside the mall early Tuesday. (WBZ-TV)

As a police cruiser was torched and windows of businesses were shattered, Providence Police said a group of 75-to-100 people stormed the mall and looted about 12-to-18 businesses inside before officers forced them back outside.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said 65 people were arrested, noting that 35 were from Providence, five from Massachusetts and the rest from towns in Rhode Island.

Providence Police said about five of their officers and five Rhode Island State troopers were hurt in the riot and that five police cruisers in all were damaged.

Elorza said they had picked up "chatter" earlier in the evening that something might be happening, so the mall was closed three hours early at 7 p.m.

The mayor said police were called in, but it remained quiet for hours.

"Then, there were some posts on social media and pretty rapidly, people appeared from different directions and different parts of the city and they congregated over by the mall. Given the way it played out, it's hard to believe it was not organized," Elorza told reporters at a news conference Tuesday morning.

Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare they were as prepared as they could be to stop the crowd.

"We had several dozen police officers, but we were overwhelmed with the number of people that wanted to get into the mall," he told reporters.

Elorza praised police who stopped the rioters, saying the damage could have been much worse. The mayor said he will talk to Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo about whether there's a need for a curfew.

"Last night was a tough night for our city.  I know there's a lot of anger, a lot of anger in our community, our state, through the entire country. But one thing is clear is that violence is not the answer. Violence is never the answer," the mayor said. "What we saw last night, these are folks that gathered purposely, late, late, late at night. They weren't coming together to peacefully protest, they were out to cause trouble."

Many of the restaurants and businesses that were hit are already hurting from the coronavirus pandemic. Café Nuovo just reopened their indoor dining Monday and now this.

"They threw a brick through one of our windows, they came and ransacked a good portion of inventory behind the bar," general manager Sean Scannell told WBZ-TV. "It's heartbreaking, it's disappointing."

But there is a sign of hope. Volunteers like Sam Oji came together Tuesday to clean up. He has a message for those who caused all the destruction.

"This isn't what the Black Lives Matter movement is about," he told WBZ. "I don't want destruction, I don't want rioting, I don't want looting that has no representation of who I am as an individual as a black man in this country."

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