Sunday, the ninth day of protests in San Antonio in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, saw events unfold in multiple areas of town.
Drinking water and holding signs over their heads to protect themselves from the June heat, more than a thousand people gathered at Milam Park in the afternoon for a vigil in remembrance of Charles “Chop” Roundtree and Marquise Jones, two black men who were killed by police in San Antonio in recent years.
At the South Texas Medical Center, White Coats for Black Lives took to the UT Health San Antonio Long School of Medicine athletic field to stand for racial equality.
And on the East Side, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers – “unapologetic about being black men in San Antonio” – marched against police brutality and to protest inequities in San Antonio.
Jones’ aunt Debbie Bush organized the Milam Park event with the help of the Autonomous Brown Berets, a local group that works against police brutality and deportation.
Police officers shot and killed 23-year-old Jones in 2014 and 18-year-old Roundtree in 2018. A jury ruled in 2017 that the City of San Antonio and Police Officer Robert Encina, who shot Jones, were not responsible for the wrongful death of Jones, and in 2019 a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Steve Casanova, who killed Roundtree.
Jones broke into tears when she talked to the crowd about the pain that George Floyd’s family and Jones’ and Roundtree’s families now share. Floyd was a black man killed May 25 in Minneapolis by a white police officer kneeling on his neck. His funeral in Houston is scheduled for Monday.
“Our hearts go out for them, they really do,” she said. “Whenever there is a murder by police, we relive this over and over again. But once you go back to your lives … we as families are still fighting for justice for our loved ones.”
Bush thanked everyone for attending Sunday but said San Antonians need to be angry about police killings that happen in their own backyard.
“The same fight you’re out here fighting for George Floyd should be here,” she said, fighting through tears.
The crowd, occupying two blocks of Commerce Street, marched from Milam Park to the Bexar County Courthouse, shouting, “Justice for Charles! Peace for Marquise! Say their names!”
Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, who had been at the San Fernando Cathedral for Mass, watched the crowd march by as participants returned to Milam Park.
“We pray for the safety of everybody, and hopefully we will adopt new ways of living with one another, especially for those who have been affected by the actions, expressions of society,” he said. “We need to raise people up, so this is a great opportunity.”
At the park, Mayor Ron Nirenberg met with members of the Roundtree and Jones families. They spoke for about 15 minutes. As Nirenberg made his way to a waiting car, people shouted at him, “Thanks for being here, Mayor. Now do something!”
“I’m gonna be present in the moment always,” Nirenberg told the Rivard Report. “Physically, sometimes it’s difficult because of scheduling. There is a long and difficult and often frustrating road between here and the reforms we have to implement at the local, state, and federal levels.”
From the vigil at Milam Park, protesters made their way to Travis Park. About 150 gathered in the shade at 5 p.m., listening to speakers and applauding.
An hour later, people continued passing the microphone at Travis Park, urging each other to continue protesting and lifting up their voices. At one point, they said in unison: “Mayor Ron – we’re still out here!”
At the medical center, more than 300 nursing and medical students and staff with UT Health San Antonio and the University of the Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine joined colleagues across the country in holding a moment of silent reflection for Floyd and commitment to improving the health and safety of people of color.
The White Coats for Black Lives event had attendees carrying signs that read “anti-racism is a nursing intervention” and “racism is a public health crisis,” and students and teachers shared words of support for the black community.
Before professors and students shared their experiences with racism at school and work, the crowd held a moment of silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to pay their respects for Floyd – the amount of time that Officer Derek Chauvin pinned Floyd with his knee on the man’s neck.
Rajah Greer, a nursing student with UT Health San Antonio, said his mother was “extremely protective” and that he and his siblings weren’t allowed to go anywhere other than school and his grandparents’ house because she was afraid they might have an unnecessary run-in with the police.
And while his mother was able to shield him from some racism in his younger years, he said he has experienced racism as a student nurse by doctors and nurses he was assigned to learn from, including “last month when I asked a white presenting nurse to tell me what the hospital was looking for in a nurse.”
“When I mentioned my leadership experience with the [Black Student Nurses Association], he told me to not pigeonhole myself by mentioning it because few black people go to nursing school because of their attitudes.”
Greer used this example to say that showing up and protesting is not enough, that people need to push for change both in and outside of work and confront racism.
“Being here and showing up is just the first step; it’s not enough. We must do the work every day for the rest of our lives,” Greer said.
Juanita Varela, a UT Health San Antonio nursing student, told the Rivard Report that ensuring there is no racism in the workplace is a best practice for humankind and is especially important for people in the medical field.
“As nurses, there is something that we can do about the oppression that black people are going through right now,” Varela said. “This includes providing quality care to patients and making sure [black nurses] are supported in the field.”
Shelby Brown, a third-year student at the University of the Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine, said educating patients and fellow medical professionals is “just the starting point.”
“We must educate ourselves and others, but we also have to vote, we have to donate, we have to sign petitions, because if we are not part of the solution we are part of the problem,” Brown said.
A pop-up voter registration booth at the athletic field was kept busy, and more students were waiting for their turn after 6 p.m. when the event drew to a close.
As the sun started setting, 50 people marched from Pittman Sullivan Park to the Martin Luther King Jr. statue on the East Side.
The Rev. James Amerson of St. Paul United Methodist Church helped organize the march with his fellow Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers. Amerson said he felt the need to organize an event with his fraternity brothers to show them being “unapologetic about being black men in San Antonio.”
“The public declaration is to show black men who want to make progress and improvements in San Antonio,” he said. “This is about seeing who’s next to me, who’s walking with me, so when we move forward, we know who our allies are.”
The fraternity chose the East Side because New Braunfels Avenue used to be a “bustling thoroughfare,” Amerson said. Not only are they marching against police brutality and in the name of George Floyd but to protest inequities in San Antonio, he said. Amerson gestured to buildings with peeling paint and shuttered windows, places he remembered once as thriving businesses owned by black San Antonians.
“That’s why we’re marching here instead of downtown,” he said. “This is where our economic development needs to happen. Decisions are made downtown, but the lives of East San Antonio and blacks that reside over here need to see health care access – there are no hospitals here. It’s a food desert with only one grocery store. Just a myriad of things that say, ‘Your life doesn’t matter.’”
State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio) marched with the Alpha Phi Alpha brothers. She, too, is most concerned with systems rather than a single issue, she said. She ticked off a few: the “apparatus” of law enforcement (which includes not only police officers but the judicial system), workforce development, and economic development.
“We have systems,” she said. “The key is how we strengthen them. … My colleagues across the state and country have contacted me. Local leaders have contacted me. They all want change, but they need to know how [to make change happen].”
After the group returned to Pittman Sullivan Park, a few joined a candlelight vigil honoring those killed by police officers, an event unaffiliated with the fraternity. About 70 people held lit candles in white plastic cups inscribed with names. Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Kevin Hicks, Anthony Ashford – all names of people who died at the hands of police officers.
The group put their candles down on a park table lined with pink flowers, a flickering visualization of lives lost to police brutality. Two signs bearing the phrase “Black Lives Matter” leaned against the table. Gervin-Hawkins, who stayed for the vigil, led the group in prayer.
“Let’s stay together, let’s pray together,” she said. “And all God’s children said: Amen.”