Scenes from a protest

Houstonians Gather for George Floyd Protest

Despite COVID-19, hundreds gathered on Friday in Downtown Houston over the Houston native's death in police custody earlier this week in Minneapolis.

By Samantha Dorisca May 30, 2020

Updated 12:20 p.m. June 1

Over the weekend, Houston Police made 414 arrests in relation to demonstrations. However, Mayor Sylvester Turner praised Houstonians for the relatively peaceful protests on Sunday, in a May 31 press conference. “I want to thank the people of the city of Houston, the demonstrators for being peaceful,” he said. He also thanked first responders, police officers, and firefighters for their professionalism and “engaging in a great deal of restraint.” 

The City of Houston currently hasn’t instigated a curfew, unlike other cities around the country and state, including Dallas. But, Turner did encourage people to stay back and to not “to engage in any activity that would be destructive to our city.”

On Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced declared a statewide emergency yesterday because of the protests and looting, which gives him the ability to “allow federal law enforcement officers to perform peace officer duties in Texas,” according to the declaration. He has deployed more than 1,000 Texas National Guard members to cities across Texas, including, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin.

Updated 9:30 a.m, May 31

More protests were held in Houston on Saturday, this time with protestors gathering in the Third Ward's Emancipation Park and marching to City Hall. The HPD presence was out in force on Saturday afternoon and into the evening, with police officers lining the streets. But this time HPD Chief Art Acevedo joined the marchers himself and walked with them to City Hall. The protesting continued into the night, and there were about 100 arrests but overall the scene stayed much calmer compared to what had occurred on Friday night. Gov. Greg Abbott deployed the National Guard in response to the continuing protests and sent out state troopers, but in Houston, at least, the protests remained fairly peaceful. 

Published 7:38 p.m. May 30

It started peacefully, but the anger was palpable as people gathered to protest the killing of George Floyd in his hometown on Friday.

Floyd, who grew up in the Third Ward, played basketball and football at Jack Yates High School, and recorded with the legendary DJ Screw, died in Minneapolis on Monday after a police officer put his knees—and 200-pound-frame—on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. His death has sparked protests and riots across the nation, and on Friday afternoon hundreds gathered in Downtown Houston to demonstrate against Floyd’s death and police violence.

After weeks of social distancing due to the coronavirus, some people wore masks, but as people began to gather near Discovery Green at 2 p.m., and then as these small groups combined into crowds of more than 500, the fact of the virus seemed to be forgotten. People of all ages pounded their fists in the air as they marched, while others used megaphones to cheer and to lead the chants. “Justice for Floyd! No justice, no peace!”

When they arrived at Houston City Hall waving homemade signs, speakers began addressing Floyd’s death. “It wasn't right,” John Marsden, a community advocate against gun violence, told his audience. “We have three officers standing there watching him lose his life. We are tired. We need to stand together more often and fight for justice. Not in violence but in peace. We must protect our children, and our children's children's future. If we don't stand today and leave a footprint in the concrete, we won't have a future.”  

Young men ages 13 to 17 talked about what it feels like to be growing up in a place where what happened to Floyd is possible. The chanting grew quiet as they spoke.  

Jolanda Jones, a criminal defense lawyer, and former member of both the Houston City Council and HISD School Board, expressed the importance of not staying quiet. “I'm not interested in making people feel comfortable,” she told Houstonia. “I'm the mother of a black man. I was afraid for him when he was a child and my fears were manifested when the only guns he had ever had pulled on him were from the police...I haven't had a sound night's sleep since my son was in middle school because that's when he started going out with his friends.”

Still, tensions were boiling. The Houston Police Department was overseeing the protest and some people hurled insults at the police officers. Some protestors had climbed on I-10, bringing traffic to a halt. Mayor Sylvester Turner called on Houstonians to keep the protest peaceful and to refrain from the kind of violence that has been seen in Minneapolis and other cities across the country the past few days.

As night came on, the protests became more complicated, with some groups continuing to protest without incident while others threw items at police officers, broke windows and damaged city property. By Saturday morning there’d been nearly 200 arrests, six officers had sustained injuries, a Verizon store had been looted, buildings had suffered property damage, and the streets and highways leading to and from Downtown had been closed.

Turner discussed the city's response to the protest on Saturday. “The city will do its part to protect the safety, maintain the peace and civility of people within our city or any individual who may be coming into our city. We are going to do our part.”

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo also asked the public to identify any culprits attempting to instigate and perpetuate violence during the protests. He also stated HPD will not use rubber bullets or gas in dealing with the protestors. Acevedo said he does not condone violence, but he supports the movement. "We stand with George Floyd's family, the African American community. We will march with them.”

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