A fifth day of protests in San Antonio ended peacefully Wednesday night, even as dozens of people remained in Travis Park past a 9 p.m. curfew for the downtown area.
By 10 p.m., the crowd began to dissipate with about 50 people talking and sharing stories in the park, the tail end of an afternoon demonstration that drew hundreds to the San Antonio Police Department headquarters to protest the death of George Floyd. Unlike the previous two nights, there was no property destruction, according to police, or reports of use of force by law enforcement officers. Two people were arrested.
“As much as violence and rioting does spark up a message, continuous rioting and lashing out will lead to people basically viewing minorities as animals,” said Shamar Mims, 22, who urged crowds at Travis Park to remain peaceful as the curfew went into effect.
“We need to project a positive message, an educated message,” Mims continued.
As helicopters circled overhead, San Antonio Police Department officers thanked protesters both through their bullhorns and face-to-face for keeping the late-night proceedings peaceful after looting and vandalism broke out after a day of protest on Saturday and a brief standoff on Tuesday resulted in police hitting protesters with tear gas and projectiles.
“The police department in San Antonio supports you being here today,” Deputy Police Chief Gus Guzman told protesters. “This is the best group we’ve had here all week.”
Guzman told the group that its peaceful assembly on Wednesday helped get its message across “loud and clear.”
Delante Armstrong, 19, a participant in the protest, said if progress is to be made, police must develop good relationships with the black community. He said some of his neighbors are police officers, adding, “I want people to have the same relationships that I do.”
“I would like to see more solidarity between the police department and the black community,” Armstrong said. “Because right now, the black community, especially people my age, they don’t like police. They’re scared of police.”
Access to Alamo Plaza, where the Tuesday standoff occurred, was blocked off Wednesday as metal barricades stood at entrances at Alamo Plaza and Commerce Street, Losoya and East Crockett Street, and Losoya and Houston streets.
Dozens of police with face shields and helmets stood about a block behind the Houston Street and Losoya barricades, where windows of businesses shattered in Saturday’s unrest remained boarded up.
Hundreds of Black Lives Matter demonstrators earlier gathered in front of San Antonio Police Department headquarters. The protest was scheduled to end at 5 p.m., but the group later marched to Travis Park.
Just after 3:30 p.m., Deborah Bush stood in front of the crowd with a megaphone to encourage people to keep fighting for racial justice and police reform locally. Her 23-year-old nephew, Marquise Jones, was shot and killed in 2014 by an off-duty San Antonio police officer outside a San Antonio restaurant. No criminal charges were filed against the officer, and Jones’ family lost a wrongful death suit related to the case.
“It’s very emotional when police killings happen, because it pulls a scab off of all the families going through this that didn’t get an arrest or an indictment,” Bush said. “We cannot let up. We have to keep fighting, because if we don’t, there is no accountability.”
Bush was one of several speakers to speak about black experiences with police brutality and lack of equality in schools, homes, and businesses. But the May 25 death of Floyd, who was handcuffed and on the ground as a police officer knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes, that was the catalyst for the days of protests here and nationwide.
The group chanted the hopeful hook of rapper Kendrick Lamar’s song “Alright” – “We gon’ be alright!” – as it played over a speaker while people marched from Public Safety Headquarters to the Bexar County Courthouse, where they paused momentarily to take a knee before returning to police headquarters.
Black Lives Matter San Antonio organizer Lexi Qayyim told the Rivard Report that the peaceful protest was important because people in support of racial equality should not be viewed as “looters or people who break stuff and get unruly.”
“We want to really emphasize that we are here for peace, and that while the energy and emotion can overflow into [rioting,] that it is not the only way for us to get our message across, and we need to keep getting our message out on behalf of those who lost their life and don’t have a voice anymore,” Qayyim said. “We are not here to [be] anarchists, we are not here to loot, we are here to be peaceful and have our voices heard.”
Among the protesters was San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker, who wore a shirt that read “I Can’t Breathe” and bumped fists with people along the route. He said he wanted to “do his part to create peace.”
Organizer Antonio Lee said part of creating peace starts with creating “a relationship between law enforcement and the community.”
“When [people of color] get pulled over, we shouldn’t have to worry if we’re going to jail. If [the officer] has had a bad day, my life is in his hands,” Lee said. “We need to know that these police officers working day in and day out, that they deal with this and are mentally prepared to go back into work every single day.”
Lee led protesters still holding their signs to Travis Park, where Community Bible Church Pastor Ed Newton prayed for them before inviting them all to join a public “peace concert.”
“We’d been here praying for peace and unity when the [demonstrators] came up,” Newton said of the impromptu gathering with demonstrators. “We had no idea they were coming or that this was happening, but it was a prayer answered.”