Southlake students, city leaders working to ensure protest is peaceful

Barricades were in place at Southlake Town Square on June 5 in advance of the protest. (Ana Erwin/Community Impact Newspaper)
Barricades were in place at Southlake Town Square on June 5 in advance of the protest. (Ana Erwin/Community Impact Newspaper)

Barricades were in place at Southlake Town Square on June 5 in advance of the protest. (Ana Erwin/Community Impact Newspaper)

A student-led march for racial equality scheduled for June 6 at Southlake Town Square has garnered regional attention.

The event is being promoted as a peaceful protest in light of the recent death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. But in a June 2 Facebook post, Southlake Mayor Laura Hill said she cannot guarantee everyone's safety.

"The City always allows all groups to gather peacefully in our public parks, it is their right and I support the students desire to be heard,” Hill said in the post. "But as Mayor and a Mother I can not in good conscience tell you to send your child if you believe the city can guarantee their safety."

Hill further states in her post that details about the protest have been shared widely online, opening the possibility that people or groups from outside the city might join.

"Holding this event in a well-known open shopping center provides no control as to who attends," she said in the post. "The flyer once posted has been shared by anyone who chose to, across Texas and beyond."

Hill was not available for comment on Friday, and a city spokesperson said she would be available on Saturday.

Carroll High School student Estela Romero is president of the Progressive Activism Club, which is organizing the event. She said she has worked with the city and the Southlake Department of Public Safety to ensure the protest remains peaceful.

“Southlake [police are] working their hardest to ensure everybody's safety,” Romero said. "I know the city has also been working their hardest. And I believe it's going to be safe."

Regional attention in the Southlake protest ballooned in the days following Floyd’s death. Roanoke Mayor Scooter Gierisch announced June 5 that a Roanoke protest had been postponed in response to the one in Southlake.

"In [the organizer's] social media post, it states, 'Due to the Southlake Protest, we have opted to postpone the Roanoke event. Please attend the protest at Southlake Town Square,’" Gierisch said in an email.

Southlake Assistant Police Chief Ashleigh Casey said in a news release that she thinks the city is considered a safe place, and officials want to protect students from “unlawful activity.”

“The right to gather and peacefully protest is a right we support and ensure day-in and day-out,” Casey said in the release. “In each case, our goal is to maintain a peaceful environment while supporting freedom of speech and expression. In this instance, there are extra safety concerns since there are supposed to be young students involved.”

Various shop owners along the perimeter of Southlake Town Square are making decisions on whether to stay open or close. On Friday, several barriers had been set out to block traffic on streets.

Michael Malouf, owner of Malouf’s Fine Apparel, said he will be closing his doors out of respect for the protest. Soleplier, a shoe and clothing store, planned to remain open unless instructed to close by Southlake Town Square management.

Hill said in a separate Facebook post on May 30 that the city has work ahead in addressing racial shortcomings.

"In Southlake we have had raw conversations as a community,” she stated. “We are open about our shortcomings. We continue to acknowledge that racism is real and we must continue to do more."

Three days later the mayor issued her statement about safety regarding the June 6 protest. That post has more than 1,000 comments as of late Friday evening.

In response to online speculation that the protest could escalate, Romero said she and her team are keeping their focus on holding a peaceful event.

“It's going to be very successful,” Romero said, “and all the talk on social media, we're ... not letting that get to us because there's people ... trying to bring us down.”
By Gavin Pugh
Gavin has reported for Community Impact Newspaper since June 2017. His beat has included Dallas Area Rapid Transit, public and higher education, school and municipal governments and more. He now serves as the editor of the Grapevine, Colleyville, Southlake edition.


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