Culebra Road on San Antonio’s far West Side isn’t usually much of a civic space. Lined with strip malls, gas stations, and chain restaurants, the area is a space for vehicles, not people on foot.
But on Thursday afternoon, more than 100 people marched down Culebra as part of a demonstration led by Communications Arts High School students and local Black Lives Matter activists. The event stood out for its youth involvement and its suburban location 14 miles northwest of downtown, where the majority of protests have taken place.
“This is a youth-led peaceful protest so that kids can get involved,” said Devin Garza, a Communications Arts junior. “We know that the youth is the future, so we must speak out about what matters.”
Garza and her classmates organized the protest at their school, a magnet school located on the campus of William H. Taft High School, in part to honor Justin Howell, a 2018 Communications Arts graduate who was severely injured May 31 when an Austin police officer fired beanbag rounds at demonstrators.
“He was peacefully protesting against police brutality, and I thought, ‘Why not do it in front of the school where he went?’” Garza said.
Garza said she felt inspired to organize a demonstration of her own after attending a protest downtown staged by Young Ambitious Activists. The group has organized many protests during the 11 days of activism San Antonio has seen in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd on May 25.
Garza said she had asked her friends to join her downtown, but many of their parents’ wouldn’t let them.
“I thought I should probably set up something so that more kids and teens can go, especially somewhere so close to their neighborhoods and their schools,” Garza said.
Police kept a wide perimeter around the entire two-and-a-half-hour demonstration that went from Taft less than a mile north to Westwood Loop and back. Police temporarily blocked traffic to allow marchers to cross streets.
As drivers passed the opposite way, most reactions ranged from supportive to indifferent. Many honked, shouted their support, and raised fists out of car windows, bumping them to the rhythm of the chant.
“Say his name! Justin Howell!” the protesters yelled. “Say her name! Breonna Taylor!”
“You’re all a bunch of f—— idiots!” one woman yelled, leaning out of the passenger window of a passing pickup truck.
As people arrived, Valerie Reiffert, a volunteer Bexar County deputy voter registrar in her 30s, was registering soon-to-be-voters and encouraging them cast ballots in the July 14 runoffs. She’d become a registrar last week after attending a protest on June 1.
“I went out there and I just met this group of people who are all out here with the same purpose, the same cause,” Reiffert said, adding that she and her fellow volunteers had registered roughly 300 people over multiple protests.
“This momentum has to hold us through July and then definitely through November,” Reiffert continued.
Before the march, Communications Arts student Mikael Davis-Leech began to cry as she spoke through a megaphone about the loss of her cousin, Daryll Blair, who was shot by a San Antonio police officer in July 2013. Police told the San Antonio Express-News at the time that Blair had crashed a stolen police-issued Ford Explorer and was shot while charging toward an officer.
“He didn’t hit anybody, he didn’t kill anybody,” Davis-Leech said. “I just feel like his life is stolen, and his baby doesn’t have a father.”
Davis-Leech expressed hope that today’s young people will make police bias and brutality a thing of the past.
“It’s amazing to see this growth and this unity, and I think the next generation is going to be so much stronger because of it,” Davis-Leech said. “I think that my kids will be able to say they if they get pulled over by police, they won’t have to worry for their lives.”