When San Antonians have come together, whether in protest or in celebration, we have always done so without resorting to looting, fighting, and destruction of public and private property.
Saturday night was a deviation from the norm. An hours-long peaceful march to protest the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week drew thousands of mostly young people to Travis Park and on to the Public Safety Headquarters on South Santa Rosa Street. Organizers led marchers in chants and kept people moving as police closed streets and stayed on the perimeter, ignoring taunts and curses by some along the way.
It was the biggest public demonstration I have witnessed in San Antonio. It took more than 20 minutes for everyone to pass by me as I watched at the corner of South St. Mary’s Street and César E. Chávez Boulevard. The pain and anger over yet another unjustifiable police killing of an unarmed black man was palpable in the faces and voices of those marching.
For those trying to post dehumanizing comments about Floyd on our site, what are you advocating? Extrajudicial killings of every person committing an act of petty crime? Nothing Floyd did merited being choked to death under the oppressive knee of a policeman unfit for duty.
At police headquarters, people participated in chants and listened to the reading of names of black Americans who have died at the hands of police in recent years. The vast majority of those who participated in the march heeded organizers’ pleas for nonviolent action. However, I did witness people heading toward Travis Park and Alamo Plaza as darkness fell.
My colleagues, Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick and Photo Editor Scott Ball, were on the scene and warned me that protesters had started to break windows in and around the plaza, at Rivercenter Mall, along East Houston Street, and even at Travis Park Church. Building walls were being tagged (“Death to the pigs!”).
I rode my bike home. I’ve covered enough violence and mayhem in the course of my career as a journalist, and hoped Dimmick and Ball would be able to do their work without risking their own welfare. Even though many on the march wore masks, one also had to wonder about the public health consequences of thousands of people coming together for hours in close proximity.
Unfortunately, several individuals tried to block Ball and a San Antonio Express-News photographer from documenting the violence and vandalism. When that failed, they grabbed Ball from behind and then stole his $4,000 camera, and with it, most of what he had documented Saturday.
There is no defense for such lawlessness. The understandable anger and calls for justice spilling out across the nation among people of color will not be sated by violence, vandalism, or property destruction. If anything, such reckless conduct reduces public sympathy in the wake of Floyd’s death.
I returned on my bike Sunday morning to survey the aftermath. Shop owners, volunteers, city workers, and contractors replaced shattered plate glass windows, swept up broken glass from sidewalks and streets, and scrubbed graffiti from walls.
Protesters accomplish nothing in calling San Antonio police murderers and thugs, which happened Saturday with frequency along the protest route. We have had our own highly questionable police killings of black men in the city, and the unaddressed anger in the community over those killings is understandable. But condemning all police only widens the gulf.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus noted at the Sunday press conference with Mayor Ron Nirenberg, City Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2), and City Manager Erik Walsh, that there wasn’t a single claim of police brutality or inappropriate law enforcement conduct reported Saturday.
Addressing pockets of racism and unprofessionalism in law enforcement is an urgent necessity, but insulting and disrespecting law enforcement professionals, who conduct themselves responsibly, is misguided. It only serves to breed more distrust between police and the community.
Some will disagree and say acts of rage are justifiable now after so many killings. Some will say I am a privileged white man and cannot fathom the depths of despair felt in the black community. True. I understand there is a difference between the sympathy and outrage I feel, and the experience of those who are victimized and live in fear of encounters with police. I also know that acts of violence or vandalism do not yield good results.
The nation should mourn the deplorable killing of George Floyd, and the other victims of police brutality who preceded him in death. Individuals who would see cities burn or destroyed, however, do nothing to honor these victims.