Criminal Justice

Houston Increases Police Presence As George Floyd Protests Enter Second Day

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said the entire police force would work rotating 12-hour shifts, after a day of protests turned tense and sometimes violent between demonstrators and police Friday.

People marched from Emancopation Park on Saturday, to protest the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Updated 11:35 p.m. CT Saturday

The Houston Police Department drastically increased its presence on the streets of Houston Saturday, as local protests over the death of George Floyd entered their second day. 

In a march that began in Emancipation Park, protesters and police walked side-by-side in the early evening, with Police Chief Art Acevedo standing up front, speaking with demonstrators as he went.

“We stand with these Black Lives Matter activists out here that what justice, that is what we all want out here,” Acevedo said as he marched. “And most importantly, we want to respect our cities, and respect the memory of George Floyd by protesting, demanding action, and doing it in a way that honors his life and his memory.”

During a press conference with Mayor Sylvester Turner earlier Saturday, Acevedo said that there would be a significant increase in the amount of law enforcement throughout the city, with the entire police department working rotating 12-hour shifts. Turner said he had also activated the Office of Emergency Management. 

“If you think there were a lot of cops yesterday, that’s nothing compared to what we’re going to have moving forward now that we’re fully mobilized and we have assets from other agencies,” Acevedo said.

As marching started from Emancipation Park around 5 p.m., Acevedo marched near the front of a group of demonstrators, circling the park and eventually heading toward Midtown. By 7 p.m., the march had moved into Midtown, then by 7:40 p.m. had reached City Hall, before turning and heading back in the direction of Third Ward, where Floyd lived before moving to Minnesota. By 9 p.m., the march no longer appeared to be organized and people started dispersing.

 

Mayor Turner also announced Saturday that Floyd’s body will be laid to rest in Houston, where he grew up. 

“In the end, this is our home, this our house, and this is the same city that George Floyd grew up in, and his body will be returning to this city,” said Turner at the press conference. “And so the focus needs to be on supporting and uplifting his family. It’s not about these other individuals who want their moment, it’s about George Floyd. And justice for George Floyd.”

Floyd, 46, was killed Monday, after being restrained during an arrest by Chauvin. In video of the incident, Floyd is heard telling police he can’t breathe, as Chauvin plants his leg into the man’s neck. Three other officers are seen looking on during the arrest. On Friday, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. All four officers involved have been fired, and charges were expected to filed against the remaining three officers involved.

Hundreds of people flooded the streets of Houston on Friday afternoon in what was a largely peaceful rally and march organized by Black Lives Matter Houston, which stretched from Discovery Green to City Hall. Protestors carried signs and chanted slogans in Floyd’s honor, demanding justice for his death at the hands of former police officer Derek Chauvin.

A protester marches from Houston’s Emancipation Park on Saturday.

But as night fell, interactions between police and protesters grew more tense, leading to 137 arrests and injuries to both officers and demonstrators, as well as damage to police vehicles and some storefronts.

Most of the arrests — 102 — were for obstructing a roadway, while a small number were charged with interference with public duties, resisting arrest, burglary, criminal mischief, and retaliation. One person was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and three were charged with assaulting an officer.

Four police officers recieved head injuries during the protest and were hospitalized, while 16 vehicles were damaged, Acevedo said. In one video shared with Houston Public Media, protesters could be seen smashing the windows of an empty police SUV at Texas Avenue and La Branch Street, one block from Minute Maid Park. One of the protesters could be seen spraying what appeared to be the contents of a fire extinguisher into the passenger side window, before police cruisers approached and the crowd dispersed.

The city did not provide details on injuries to protesters. But in one incident caught on camera, a woman was knocked over by a mounted police officer and stepped on by their horse. Acevedo, who was aware of the video, said he believed the incident to be unintentional.

Another protester, 36-year-old Houston resident Percy Utley, filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Houston Saturday, alleging he was slammed against a wall during the protests, arrested and put in jail before being released without any charges. 

“Percy had his rights of Free Speech and Right to Peaceably assemble violated,” read a statement from Utley’s attorney, Randall Kallinen. “Democracy can only survive if the citizens’ rights are enforced.”

A spokesperson for the city of Houston did not immediately return a request for comment about the suit Saturday.

Another protester, 25-year-old Stephanie Perez, said she was marching with her bicycle on US-59 North about 5:30 p.m. Friday, alongside her sister, when an officer allegedly approached and told them bikes weren’t allowed to cross the highway. Before she had time to turn around, Perez said that the officer grabbed the bike and allegedly shoved her to the ground, where she hit her head on the asphalt.

Perez, who said she was wearing her bike helmet, was taken to an emergency room, given a CT scan and diagnosed with a concussion. Discharge documents from Houston Methodist Hospital also show Perez was left with an ankle sprain, neck pain and bilateral lower back pain. 

“This is state-sanctioned terrorism,” Perez said. “Everyone keeps saying violence is not the answer and I wholeheartedly agree but why does this not apply to police?”

Perez added that she intended to file a complaint with HPD’s internal affairs bureau, but said she was skeptical that she would see any results.

HPD did not provide a comment Saturday.

A man bows his head during a march in protest of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

At Saturday’s press conference, both Turner and Acevedo praised the majority of protesters who demonstrated peacefully in Floyd’s memory Friday, while criticizing what they said were largely white “provocateurs” and “anarchists.”

“We’re seeing that there are people, that are not people of color, that are coming into this city and other cities to actually start agitating and actually engage in violence,” Acevedo said.

“The elephant in the room is that racism is alive and well in our country,” Acevedo said. “And for those that deny it, they’re just lying to themselves, or quite frankly they are the ones that are part of the problem.”

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Paul DeBenedetto

Senior Producer

Paul DeBenedetto is Houston Public Media's senior web producer, writing and editing stories for HoustonPublicMedia.org. Before joining the station, Paul worked as a web producer for the Houston Chronicle, and his work has appeared online and in print for the Chronicle, the New York Times, DNAinfo New York, and other...

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