Texas officials respond to demonstrations, unrest in wake of George Floyd killing

Demonstrators gathered at the Texas Capitol on May 31 to protest police brutality. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Demonstrators gathered at the Texas Capitol on May 31 to protest police brutality. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Demonstrators gathered at the Texas Capitol on May 31 to protest police brutality. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Cities across the country experienced days of unrest, including peaceful protests and violence, as thousands of Americans took to the streets in the week following George Floyd’s May 25 killing while in Minneapolis police custody.

Gov. Greg Abbott publicly issued a statement on Floyd’s death May 30 alongside an announcement that he had distributed state resources to Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio in an effort to maintain public safety.

“Texas and America mourn the senseless loss of George Floyd and the actions that led to his death are reprehensible and should be condemned in the strongest terms possible,” Abbott said in the statement. “As Texans exercise their 1st Amendment rights, it is imperative that order is maintained and private property is protected.”

He also said he and officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety had spoken to each city’s mayor and law enforcement officials and that more than 1,500 DPS peace officers were assigned to help local police departments. Later that day, Abbott announced he had activated the Texas National Guard and followed up on his previous comments about protests.

More than 17,000 guard members were activated across 23 states and Washington, D.C., as of Monday morning, according to a National Guard statement.

On May 31, Abbott declared a statewide state of disaster due to threats of looting and violence reported in several cities across the state. Following that declaration, he also announced further distribution of law enforcement and National Guard troops throughout the state alongside the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s deployment of tactical teams.


"Every Texan and every American has the right to protest and I encourage all Texans to exercise their First Amendment rights," Abbott said in the first May 31 statement. "However, violence against others and the destruction of property is unacceptable and counterproductive. As protests have turned violent in various areas across the state, it is crucial that we maintain order, uphold public safety, and protect against property damage or loss.”

Abbott issued two additional statements June 1 in response to the weekend's protests and violence. In the first, Abbott announced he will hold a June 2 briefing and press conference alongside local and state officials about the state's response to the protests in Dallas. In the second, the governor said he and Texas' four United States Attorneys will pursue federal prosecution against any out-of-state suspects for violence, looting or other violent offenses related to protests in the state.

"Texans must be able to exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of having agitators, including those coming from out-of-state, hijack their peaceful protest," said Abbott and U.S. Attorneys John F. Bash, Erin Nealy Cox, Stephen J. Cox and Ryan K. Patrick, in the statement. "Today’s announcement will ensure there are harsh consequences for those breaking the law and that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

The governor’s announcements came after each of the state’s largest cities experienced large protests and some violence over the weekend.

In Austin, the police and city transportation departments said portions of I-35 and several nearby roads downtown were closed due to protests on Saturday and Sunday. The Austin Police Department said on Twitter that demonstrators threw objects, including rocks, bricks, eggs, water bottles and Molotov cocktails, throughout May 30, to which officers responded by firing less-than-lethal rounds, including rubber bullets and bean-bag rounds.

Despite the cancellation of a planned protest, demonstrations continued in the city May 31, including a second shutdown of I-35 and gatherings near the Texas Capitol and city government buildings. Police also reported a looting incident at a Target store north of downtown. Around 12 arrests were made May 30, and around 30 arrests were made May 31 in relation to protests, APD said on Twitter.

Largely peaceful protests went on in downtown Dallas throughout the afternoon of May 30, the Dallas Police Department said in social media posts. Police said some squad cars were damaged by protestors in the afternoon, and later in the evening, demonstrators began throwing rocks, looting and blocking portions of Hwy. 336 and I-35. Two of the city's malls were closed due to threats of looting, police said, and Dallas Area Rapid Transit services were suspended overnight. Police said 74 arrests were made May 30.

Mayor Eric Johnson posted several tweets related to protests over the weekend, including statements of support for protestors and condemnations of violence reported alongside demonstrations. Johnson declared a local state of disaster in Dallas on May 31 due to the nighttime riots and looting that took place over the previous days; he also allowed city officials to implement a 9 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew in the city’s downtown area. Police said they made dozens of arrests the night of May 31, including several related to curfew violations.

In Houston, marches were held downtown throughout the weekend, including two that were attended by Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo on May 30 and 31. From Friday night through Sunday night, the city police department said more than 400 arrests were made related to demonstrations in the city. Several police officers suffered injuries, the department said on Twitter, while a video circulated on Twitter of a mounted patrol officer trampling a protestor, which prompted an apology from Mayor Sylvester Turner on May 31.

Acevedo said Sunday he hopes to provide a police escort for George Floyd’s funeral when his body returns to Houston. Acevedo said more information on the escort will be provided during a June 2 march to City Hall, which will feature Turner and other city officials alongside members of Floyd's family, community activists and Houston rappers Trae Tha Truth and Bun B.


In San Antonio, Mayor Ron Nirenberg issued a local disaster declaration and an overnight curfew in the city’s business district May 30 after a downtown demonstration “devolved” Saturday night, he said in a tweet. The May 30 curfew was in effect from 11:30 p.m.-6 a.m. the following morning, and a May 31 curfew was set for 10 p.m.-6 a.m. the following morning.

“The planned demonstrations from earlier today were peaceful, and the organizations did exactly what they said they would do to keep others safe," Police Chief William McManus said in a May 30 statement. "The situation was escalated by some bad actors whose only intent was to incite violence and cause destruction. The actions of a few do not represent the majority of those who came out to peacefully demonstrate."
By Ben Thompson
Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2019 and is a reporter for The Woodlands edition.


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