Updated: Nov 12
The recent crash of 24-year-old Jhamal Gonsalves brings our state closer to the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement. The uproar within the community of Providence is validated by the disgust police showed for human life. Gonsalves, who was riding a 50 cc moped, a legal street bike in this state, was targeted and run down by Providence Police.
Rhode Island’s bike crew is a close bonded family -- think Hells Angels meets Fast and the Furious, but with the stubbornness of the common Rhody - that is the 401 street community. The incident regarding one of 401’s own is why the #JusticeforJhamal protests are happening in Providence. Some people see the streets as a dangerous place, but it is home to a cultivation of lessons, pride, and heart. These three words are the reason the streets refuse to back down until the Providence force takes action against the officer who put Gonsalves in a coma.
There is a no-chase policy in the city of Providence. Members of the Providence town council are calling upon Mayor Jorge Elorza to revisit the current limitations of the “No-Chase'' Policy. Videos of the incident show the initial police cruiser that hit Gonsalves speeding off onto Bissell St. The rest of the cruisers are also seen in the video and not a single one of them carries on following the event. Not only did the department break the no chase policy, they deliberately stopped after catching just one person, who also happened to be on the slowest ride. This incident may have started out because of the initial motorist ride out, but it’s shown that all this department cared about was catching another body to add to their quota.
Gonsalves was smacked into a building at such a force that the sound makes one question how he is in a coma and not dead. The police cruiser that hit Gonsalves had to be towed away because of the forceful impact, which in itself concludes a chase ended by hostile impact. The front end contained indentations from Gonsalves’ body. Providence has seen protests all year because of the respect the city as a whole has for human life. Now the ones sworn to protect have hindered the life of one of our cities' own beloved souls.
The bike community who prepared the bike ride out publicly stated, “Ride outs were built to create safety for our youth. We ride in packs to minimize the possibility of being hit by cars. We ride together because it creates bonds in our community. Because so many of our young Black and brown men are locked out of society due to racism and records, bike culture creates a space to help bring us back into the community.“ To think the streets of Providence -the melting pot of culture in this state- will rest after one of their own is put into critical care is ridiculous.
Before seeing if the man is conscious, multiple officers pick up the moped, and one officer is seen yanking Gonsalves by the arm. The disrespect for human life was shown in that moment. No officer checks for a pulse, and Gonsalves is seen limp and easily slung with the breeze when his arm is yanked. Providence police have always been touch-and-go with attitude, but in a Facebook video gone viral by Roberto Joubert, plainclothes officer 395 speaks with hostility asking the rhetorical question “do you know what a sidewalk is?” Another unidentified officer then appears before the end of the clip, pulls his cruiser up to cut off the camera, and proceeds to yell at not only the civilians but the officers as well. The department refuses to give the name of the guilty party which is fueling the fury in the Providence streets.
The bike life ride out event, which took place on October 18, was a planned event with licensed motorists and special stunt drivers. Gonsalves, in the back of the gang, must have had the common sense to pull over. The idea goes with the video, but against Providence police statements, which say the moped was speeding off and then lost control into the building while turning onto Bissell St. The disgust from the Providence police force in Joubert’s video resonates doubt that the man behind the wheel of the attack mobile will receive anything more than a slap on the wrist. One city dweller Rachel Carr mentions, “Police need to be held accountable. If they truly did not hit him, then show the dash cam. If a nurse or doctor [expletive] kills someone, they lose their license or practice. They are held accountable off rip, but police get suspension with pay? If civilians act on police they way police act on them, they are taken into custody for disrespect or assault on an officer.”
Outraged people, made from a group of stubborn Rhode Islanders who do not give up a fight, prove to be a force to reckon with. The 401 bike community, friends and family of Gonsalves, his motocross sponsors, and the city as a whole won’t rest until Jhamal wakes up and the culprit takes fault. The violence and damage attached to the protests is ignorance stemmed from the bliss of a swift dismissal. Days go on, yet the officer who intentionally drove a cruiser into a man on a moped -putting him in a coma- has yet to be identified. The burn outs are not justified, but they are an ode from the ones of Gonsalves’s kind. The stance here was motivated by the soul and heart of the city raising awareness for another name added to the police brutality list.