Actions, not Words
Across the nation days of protest have unfolded over the past week in the wake of George Floyd's murder by police. Here in Houston, activists have been in the streets demanding justice. But this weekend a misleading narrative has developed that needs to be checked. You might have seen photos of a police officer hugging a protester, or a video of the police chief inveighing against Mr. Floyd's murder. For those watching from the comfort of their homes, it's tempting to find solace in these images, even pride: "Look everybody, Houston is doing it right, our cops care!" To be sure, words matter, and it's commendable for any law enforcement leader to speak out against police brutality as Chief Acevedo has spoken during this time of unrest.
But the key word here is: Spoken
Empty words and images are the shield of tyranny. They placate the privileged while the unjust knee of oppression continues to suffocate its target. Yes, Chief Acevedo walked with protesters during the day, posed for some truly moving photos, and gave that impassioned tirade on video which even grabbed some national attention... but then later that night, his troops, decked out in gear that would make armies around the world jealous, rounded up, zip-tied and imprisoned scores of peaceful protesters.
Their alleged crime? Obstructing a highway or passageway, a class B misdemeanor and victimless crime that gives law enforcement a kind of blank check to shut down protests in anticipation of other problems. It's not surprising that a law like this would exist in our state. But law enforcement in Houston, as in any city, has discretion in how it allocates its resources and what it chooses to enforce. So we must ask why the law was used the way it was here in Houston over the weekend?
Below you will see a number of publicly available videos gathered from protesters this weekend. These videos show that:
The protesters were peaceful
The police presence was dramatic and intimidating
There were no cars on the roadway allegedly being obstructed
The protesters were corralled like cattle, taken into custody, and held overnight
People were restrained in ties for at least 8 hours during their incarceration
In this first video, follow local Houston activist Janie Campos Torres as she peacefully protests and is then arrested by police in riot gear. At the 20:00 mark you can hear cops on a loudspeaker announcing the mass arrest of peaceful protesters. Notably, Ms. Torres has suffered at the hands of police before. Her brother, Jose Campos Torres, was brutally murdered by police over 40 years ago, famously sparking mass resistance in Moody Park.
Here we see activist Blanca Rodriquez Alanis peacefully walking a route similar to Ms. Torres. At the 7:57 mark (Smith & Louisiana), she is corralled by police along with other protesters. You can see smoke and hear firing of some sort at the 11:15 mark. Ms. Alanis escapes toward the end with a few other folks.
This video contains a short interview with activist Perla Kohler after she was released from custody. She describes how the police detained her and others, zip-tied them and bused them to jail. She was left in zip-ties for 8 hours despite her repeated requests to be released. She also says that people who claimed they were related to a lawyer were being released.
In this second short video with Ms. Kohler, taken about the same time, she tells us that the authorities denied her access to necessary feminine hygiene products while in custody.
In this final video, another peaceful protester talks about her arrest and experience in custody. She describes a "wall of police" and "firecrackers" and "flash grenades." She was not read her rights. While in custody she was zip-tied and denied access to water.
The nationwide protests over the last week have been about entrenched structural racism and the heavy, out-of-control hand of the American police state. Hugging your victims before you shatter their kneecaps is hardly a show of solidarity. Leadership that understood the moment would use its discretion accordingly, put the batons on the shelf, and stand down.
In a civil society that truly respects the dignity of everyone and their right to express the generational pain that simmers in our country, there is no place for "walls of police."
We must demand more of our leaders. And if you have the privilege to be surprised by any of this, you in particular need to put that privilege to work and demand more.