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Downtown merchants spent Sunday morning cleaning up shattered glass and other debris after a protest over the death of George Floyd escalated into rioting Saturday night, leading Mayor Ron Nirenberg to impose an overnight curfew for the downtown area.
Saturday night’s curfew extended to 6 a.m. Sunday, and will resume at 10 p.m. Sunday through 6 a.m. Monday. Nirenberg moved the curfew for Alamo Plaza up to 6 p.m. Sunday to prevent further unrest.
The clearing of Alamo Plaza – save for those working or staying at hotels inside – went relatively smoothly Sunday evening as the plaza curfew took effect. Two people held signs in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in the afternoon but left peacefully when officers asked them to.
A few young white men heckled dozens of police officers as they marched out double-file across the plaza, fanned out, and held their lines following Houston Street and South Alamo Street – along the historic footprint of the Alamo compound’s original mission walls. Police officers also were stationed at the River Walk entrance to the plaza. Officers will be monitoring the area in this manner through 6 a.m.
Mayors in cities around the nation imposed curfews after demonstrations against police brutality turned violent Saturday. Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide disaster declaration Sunday following marches in Texas’ largest cities where clashes between police and protesters occurred.
Nirenberg put the curfew in place starting at 11:30 p.m. Saturday night after a peaceful march, held to protest of the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd while in police custody, turned destructive. Downtown businesses surrounding Alamo Plaza, especially those on Houston Street, were damaged, and San Antonio police officers used tear gas and other tactics to disperse the crowd.
The curfew applies only to the city’s central business district and is aimed at stemming further looting and property damage. Dozens of windows in the downtown area were broken, some stores and restaurants were looted, and buildings were tagged with graffiti Saturday night. Six people were arrested on charges that included aggravated assault, unlawful carrying of a weapon, inciting a riot, and curfew violations, according to a City press release.
“This [is] another tool for our first responders, our police department, to make sure we’re preventing additional criminal behavior,” Nirenberg said at a midnight press conference at Public Safety Headquarters. “The vast majority of folks we saw out there today and this evening were there to peacefully assemble, which this city has a great tradition of doing. We can’t let a few folks ruin it.”
At least five shops along Houston Street had windows broken. By noon on Sunday, San Antonio Ranch, Regalos Mexicanos, Mar Imports, El Vaquero, and the vacant Rocket Fizz storefronts had plywood covering their windows to prevent further break-ins. Volunteers, some of whom had participated in Saturday’s protest march, brought brooms and trash bags to help clean up damage; some dropped off snacks and water.
The destruction occurred hours after protesters marched from Travis Park to police headquarters to draw attention to Floyd’s death and demand policing reforms. While some protesters cursed at police officers, the march was peaceful and many participants disbanded in the early evening.
However, some went to Alamo Plaza, where protesters yelled at a group of armed people stationed near the Alamo Cenotaph who had assembled after the monument was vandalized by spray paint Friday. Many saw the armed group’s gathering at the Cenotaph as a counter protest, but organizers of that event said they were there only to protect the sculpture from further harm.
Police tried to keep the groups apart, but the situation grew more tense and as darkness fell people began breaking windows at the nearby Rivercenter Mall.
Unfortunately, the march’s rallying cry for reform and social justice is “not going to be the story anymore,” Nirenberg said, because of the violence that followed. “It’s going to be about the broken windows, it’s going to be about criminal mischief. That’s a disservice to the cause that people were assembled [for].”
Michael Williams, who stood with those holding signs before the Alamo Plaza curfew kicked in Sunday, agreed that the violence and rioting detracts from the message of the protests.
“It’s not just a black or white issue – it’s a hate issue,” Williams said. “We built this country together, as a people. … But every so often one bad egg knocks us back 15 years. It puts a stain on Floyd – God rest his soul. It puts a stain on every person who has lost their lives to unlawfulness.”
Under the broader downtown curfew, residents who live, work, or have business in the area – bordered by East Cesár E. Chávez Boulevard and El Paso Street to the south, Haven for Hope to the west, Interstate 37 to the east, and Interstate 35 to the north – are allowed to be there, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said.
“We’re not going out there headhunting,” McManus said during a press conference at midnight Sunday. “The people that the mayor put this curfew in place for are the agitators and people who were out there destroying property. … It gives the officer an additional tool to stop people.”
The emergency order doesn’t apply to members of the media, people authorized by the City or state, and people traveling to medical appointments, fleeing dangerous situations, or experiencing homelessness.
It was unclear who instigated the violence and looting that took place Saturday night, but officials and some protesters indicated the crowd included people who were either not local residents or were acting with the intention to defuse the protest’s message.
“I don’t believe that a majority of those people are from San Antonio,” McManus told reporters at the midnight press conference. “I know that anecdotally. I don’t have any documentation.”
“There were members in the crowd telling people to stop with the mischief,” Nirenberg said. “Those are San Antonians. We should be very proud of those folks.”
As of late Saturday night, there were “still pockets of agitators” breaking windows and throwing things at police officers, McManus said. He commended his police officers and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers who were “restrained and professional in the face of insults” while having rocks, bottles, and other objects – such as a bike – thrown at them.
McManus said no civilians reported injuries caused by law enforcement. While some were injured cutting themselves on glass or slipping off curbs, “none were hurt by the police,” he said.
One rubber plug – a large, nonlethal rubber bullet – was fired near a protester after an officer was cornered by protesters who had thrown a can of tear gas back toward police, McManus said.
Police supervisors on the scene permitted the use of tear gas and pepper balls, a pepper spray projectile, after large groups of protesters started looting stores and refused to disperse after 10 p.m.
Three law enforcement officers received treatment for injuries, including two who were hit in the head with bottles and one was struck in the knee with a brick, he said.
McManus, who took over as San Antonio’s chief of police in 2006 after being chief in Minneapolis, condemned the actions of the Minneapolis police officer accused of third-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. A bystander’s video showed Floyd was handcuffed lying facedown as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck; Floyd was declared dead about an hour later.
“The video of Mr. Floyd was sickening, and that is the opinion of every single major city police chief in this country,” McManus said. “… That set law enforcement back eons. The delicate relationship that we have with the community is pushed back to the dark ages. … We are better than that. We don’t train like that.”
Protocol calls for a supervisor to be present before deadly force can be used, he said. “Certainly in that situation in Minneapolis there was no justification for deadly force.”
“The level of destruction and violence is not at the same level as we’ve seen in other cities around the country, but it’s a lot for San Antonio,” McManus said.