Sunday, June 14, 2020

George Floyd is Texas' new favorite son: Small-town protests change police-politics landscape, and make history in East Texas

Protests in the big cities have received the most attention, but one of the most remarkable developments on the civil-rights front in Grits' lifetime has been the rise of protest events in smaller Texas towns where we've never witnessed this sort of activism. 

Small-town Texas 💘 #BlackLivesMatter
On Twitter, Texas Monthly compiled a list of small-town protests. Rural hamlets where a decade ago such protests seemed unimaginable - like Vidor, Jasper, Hondo, or Alpine - witnessed sizable turnouts and impassioned speeches. Places like TexarkanaAmarillo, or Wichita Falls, I'm certain, considered themselves immune to such upheaval, but all saw significant protest events. In tiny Paris, TX, a city council member resigned following criticisms he made of protesters on social media and a censure vote by his colleagues. Most counties where anyone actually lives saw protests.

Reflecting on the existence of civil-rights protests in my hometown
Wade Goodwyn at NPR this week ran a story featuring protests in my hometown of Tyler, which was largely bypassed during the civil-rights movement of the '50s and '60s. The idea of a Black Lives Matter protest in Bergfeld Park frankly boggles the mind, and indeed, someone allegedly threatened to shoot protest leaders if they held the event.

Grits recalls in the early aughts visiting Texas College, an HBC in North Tyler, to give a Know-Your-Rights training when I was at ACLU-TX. The prof who invited me described how Marshall, Tx, lying twenty miles from the Louisiana border across from Shreveport, was as far west as the civil-rights protests extended into Texas' Piney Woods. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Marshall's Wiley College in March 1960, against the wishes of the administration, and young activists inspired by his visit went on to hold sit ins at the local Woolworth department store. 

The retaliation was intense: Police turned water hoses on the students, and the President of Bishop College (a now-defunct HBC, also in Marshall), who'd invited Dr. King, was red-baited, formally accused of being a Communist by then-Governor Price Daniel, and run out of his job. Student organizers from both Wiley and Bishop colleges were arrested, though most of the charges were dismissed later that year. That summer, though, all Wiley faculty who had not supported the administration in opposing Dr. King's visit were fired. (Go here for the best account I've found of the incident.)

After that example, scarce few people at Texas College or really, throughout East Texas, were willing to speak up for civil rights. Would-be black movement leaders were largely cowed into submission and the civil-rights movement that gripped the rest of the American South largely passed the region by for the next 60 years. Until now.

MORE: The other big, early moment that decapitated the civil rights movement in East Texas was the banishment of the NAACP from Texas courts in 1957. Cory McCoy at the Tyler Morning Telegraph re-told that story a few years back, check it out. AND MORE: From the Texas Observer, "What the Black Lives Matter protests mean for East Texas."

Charges dropped against hundreds of protesters arrested in Houston
Two hundred miles south, in Houston, more than 650 people were arrested during recent police accountability protests. Harris County DA Kim Ogg this week dropped charges against more than 600 of them. While Grits is glad charges were dismissed, local defense attorneys pointed out that the DA's office in Harris County must pre-approve all non-warrant-based arrests. So if there was no probable cause to think these folks committed crimes, they probably should have figured that out during intake and avoided arresting these folks on the front end.

Introducing the George Floyd Act
In light of the broad-based reaction in Texas' hinterlands, Gov. Greg Abbott's response to recent events seems less surprising. For a moment, when he issued a disaster declaration threatening to deputize federal agents to combat protesters in the Texas' large cities, Grits feared he was about to channel his inner-Price Daniel and crack down on everyone involved. Since then, though, his rhetoric has softened. Recently, he met privately with George Floyd's family and pledged to enact reform, despite tepid support for police accountability measures so far on his watch.

Similarly, at the legislature, members who were at best lukewarm toward police-reform bills are now emerging as champions, while our actual, historical champions are licking their chops at all the new opportunities emerging. For now, at least, it's official: George Floyd is Texas' new favorite son.


Gadfly said...

Per your "George Floyd Act" subsection, Grits, there's one reason that Strangeabbott ... and any GOPers who reside in the Lege ... are speaking up.

It's called "83-67."

Until I see more substantive reasons, I'll stick with that.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That is, in fact, a very substantive reason! :)

Anonymous said...

This report from Quinlan, Texas.

I'm going to post my videos tomorrow, but I don't want to wait to share the details of the disgusting behavior from the supposed "all lives matter" folks who countered our Black Lives Matter protest in Quinlan today.

From the beginning, we were met across the street by the leader of the local KKK group and his wife, both of whom were proudly waving Confederate flags while shouting back and forth with us. They were joined off and on on that side of the road by many people who were supportive of their message. As the evening went on, many racial slurs were hurled at members of our group, both from cars driving by and from confrontational people face to face. Shortly after the march, some old douchebag in a Trump hat approached our group and began knocking signs out of people's hands. Another man harassed us for quite some time, chanting "all lives matter" and calling us all racist. When we drowned his stupidity out with chants, the man removed his shirt and began to repeatedly perform the Nazi salute for several minutes.
One particularly confrontational man attempted to start conflict with our group next to McDonald's and was sent away by the police. Later, as we were walking back to QPD headquarters, the aforementioned man was waiting in his vehicle along our path and began shouting racial slurs at our group. He called my black friend a ni**er and yelled "your skin is the wrong color". I lost my shit when I heard that and began angrily yelling profanity back at him. He then jumped out of his vehicle and challenged me to throw down right in front of a cop. I was seething with anger like never before in my life but managed to turn my back to that asshole and walk away. I don't want to hear a single word from the "all lives matter" folks about protesting peacefully, because they tried their hardest to goad our peaceful protesters into being violent. Shortly before the event concluded, some stupid Karen across the street from us began yelling at the Latino and Hispanic members of our group (which were the majority of it), calling them "spics" and telling them to "go back home to (their) countries."

So, I want everyone who reads this to understand the nature of this evening's events. Our protest was small and totally peaceful, yet it was met with constant racist slurs, hateful gestures, threatening language and all around hatred and hostility from the majority of the people we encountered. Racism isn't just alive in Quinlan, it is THRIVING and PLENTIFUL. It was made crystal clear that it isn't violence and looting that the people we encountered have a problem with. They take issue with our rejection of their racism. I'm very proud of everyone in our group for having the courage to stand face to face with hideous bigotry and tell it to fuck off. However, I'm ashamed to share a town with so many racist idiots. I've lived here my entire life and didn't realize the extent of the racist ignorance until tonight. We have a lot of work to do in this town.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

OMG, I'm so sad that happened! Try not to let the bigots get to you, keep going! And please come back and post a link once videos are up. :(

George said...


I can relate to what you experienced. The racism that you experienced has been alive and well here in Texas, especially small towns, ever since Texas became what is known as Texas. It's utterly disgusting to witness the lengths that these bigots will go to to make their ignorance and lack of empathy known to all who witness it. The scab of racial tension has been torn off and the active infection of racism is threatening to overcome us as a nation if we don't address the real issues.

I grew up in a sleepy East Texas town during the sixties and seventies, Jasper. It was a segregated society -- whites had their own schools, blacks had theirs, the theatre downtown was segregated whereas whites sat in the lower section and blacks had to climb a set of stairs via an outside door to the balcony to view movies. Each year in May, we had a 4 day rodeo and it was kicked off with a rodeo parade. Whites lined one side of the street and blacks the other side.

Blacks were expected to show deference to white folks. Looking back on it now, it's easy to see the privilege that I had that the blacks did not have, just because of my skin color. My family ran a farm and we weren't wealthy but we certainly were in a much better place than most, if not all, black people.

Then came the integration of our school system. This was the year I started the 7th grade, 1967 I think. It was an eye opening experience to say the least. Jaspers' junior high replaced the former Rowe High school that the black people has attended for many years. There was trouble from the very beginning and fights broke out daily for quite some time and there were several days of protests/marches by the black residents around the junior high school. Rides on the now integrated school buses were filled with tension and fights as well.

I look back on those days and I would like to think that somehow we are better now than then. However, I think we just allowed the wounds to simply scab over and never really administered the "medicine" needed for a lasting "cure".

Before I graduated in 1974, I had made many black friends but I also knew of many whites who simply would not "allow" themselves to let go of their bigotry and hatred towards anyone who wasn't like them.

In many ways, East Texas hasn't changed much but I hope this nationwide movement will spur most people to truly examine their prejudices and search their hearts for empathy. Only then will the long festering wounds begin to heal.