By David Wilfong
NDG Contributing Writer
The death of an African American detained by police in Minneapolis has sent shockwaves around the country; indeed, around the world.
On May 25, George Floyd was apprehended by police after being accused of passing a counterfeit bill. In the minutes following, videos surfacing on the Internet showed Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee against the neck of an already-handcuffed Floyd for more than eight minutes. Subsequently, according to autopsy reports, Floyd went into cardiac arrest and died.
There were immediate calls for justice, and legal action to be taken against Chauvin and other officers involved.
“As a former prosecutor and attorney for 40 years, I believe there is ample evidence for those officers involved in this incident to be charged and for the case to proceed through the justice system,” said Texas Sen. Royce West. “Policing in America today has its challenges. We cannot continue to bring harm to innocent people, continue to exercise biased behavior, or continue to encounter incidents of excessive use of force resulting in the killing of unarmed and non-threatening human beings. There is no reason violent and incendiary tactics should be used by any police department in the United States.”
The sentiment was shared across the political spectrum. Former U.S. Rep. and Fox political commentator Trey Gowdy, also a former prosecutor and known for his staunchly conservative stances,was unequivocal in his assessment as well.
“It may not have been premeditated,” Gowdy said. “Ok, take murder one off; but it’s either murder two or murder three, and I can tell you in South Carolina somebody would already be arrested. And if he weren’t a cop; if it were just another person killing someone in the street, asphyxiating them, there’d already be an arrest. You’ll have to ask Minnesota why it takes that long to process a video. It’s pretty clear to me.”
As the public waited for the justice system to take action, protests began hitting the streets of Minneapolis. Solidarity demonstrations then began popping up in other major U.S. cities; and by last week there were demonstrators outside the U.S. embassies in London and Berlin. While many protests were peaceful, violent incidents began to occur in various locations.
The anger hits home
Being a major city, and with a past history of racial issues of its own, there was no surprise that protesters would take to the streets in Dallas too.
An organized protest was scheduled on Friday with both the knowledge and cooperation of Dallas PD. According to Police Chief Renee Hall, officers began noticing a separation of protesters beginning around 8:45 to 9 p.m. Some protesters began to try to access the freeway to block traffic but were blocked by Sheriff’s deputies. A later shift occurred a short time later at Griffin and Young Streets, when bottles and bricks began to be thrown at officers and their vehicles. At that time police deployed tear gas to disperse the crowd and protect themselves.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson addressed the issue at a press conference prior to attending a family funeral on May 30, calling for calm and peace in the city.
“Last night we saw a very large, peaceful demonstration that reflected the Dallas that I know as a native son of this city,” Johnson said. “Those protests gave voice to the many people of color in this country who have long felt frustration and pain that I not only understand, but that I share. And I respect those folks who came out last night for seeping out and calling for justice in the memory of George Floyd.”
Johnson said the outrage over Floyd’s death was justified, and added tha police officers in Dallas and all over the country shared in the condemnation of the acts which led to his death.
“But we also, unfortunately, saw some reckless behavior from a small group of people whose agendas had nothing to do with human rights or civil rights,” Johnson said. “They exploited a collective cry for help for their own personal gain by looting. They chose to destroy things at a time when we should be building each other up, and we just can’t allow that; not in Dallas.”
Johnson said he expected more protests on Saturday night, and advised anyone planning to cause destruction, violence or crime to stay at home and not attend. However, those words were not heeded. Saturday night brought a new round of problems which by most accounts were worse than the night before.
Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall, who had spoken longside the mayor the day before, found herself at the podium again the next day. She said officers had noticed smaller groups within the protests acting “strategically” and reacting to the movements of the police.
“What we realize now, is that this is no longer people protesting,” Hall said. “We all agree that our hearts go out to the Floyd family. But this is not what we’re dealing with. We are dealing with individuals who are vandalizing property, attempting to injure police officers, and the protesters who are peacefully protesting, putting their safety and lives at risk as well. This will not be tolerated in our city.”
At that time, Hall announced the implementation of a curfew aimed at quelling the disruptions. The curfew runs from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. in key areas and would be in effect, “for the next several days.” The curfew extends to Deep Ellum, Farmers Market, The Cedars, Central Business District, West End, Victory Park, and Uptown. Hall also said that the logistical groundwork had been put in place to make mass arrests possible.
On Sunday night, protesters were peaceful, but then entered the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge after being warned by police that would be a violation of law. After the crowd didn’t stop and entered the bridge, arrests were made. There was a lot of the police on social media following the altercations, but on Monday Chief Hall was unapologetic in her response.
“Let me be clear, I am not here to make people happy,” Hall said. “My job, and our job in law enforcement, is to keep this city safe. We have pledged that. We will do that, and that is our goal.”
On Monday, Texas Governor Gregg Abbott made an appearance with the mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth and vowed to use state resources to support local cities dealing with actions which go above and beyond the level of “peaceful protests.” He said the state was deploying additional law enforcement personnel to the area to reinforce local police. He also said people were coming in from out of the area, and even out of the state to take advantage of local unrest.
“We are up to the task of doing both correcting injustices and restoring safety in our communities,” Abbott said. “What I have seen as governor, is that Texans can overcome any challenge. We can put an end to the violence that is gripping our cities. We can remedy the injustices that have plagued African American and other minority communities in Texas. And we will seize this moment, to bridge the divides that exist in our state, so that we can and we will keep Texas the greatest state in the United States of America.”
As of press time, the curfew is still in effect in the downtown areas identified by city officials. As an aftereffect, DART suspended all buses and trains running into the curfewed areas. Hundreds of passengers were sent scrambling on Monday evening to find alternate routes to get home if their trains or bus routes were cut short.
Businesses operating in the curfew zone are asked to close by 5 p.m. Residents and essential workers needing to travel through the curfew areas are told to carry proof of residency or work credentials.