HOUSTON (CN) — No punches were thrown, rocks hurled at police, or store windows broken at a rally for George Floyd in his hometown of Houston on Tuesday, as the thousands who came out abided by his family’s plea for no violence.
Houston rapper Bernard “Bun B” Freeman helped organize the mile-long march from a downtown park to City Hall and told the crowd at the start to honor Floyd’s family the right way and keep their eyes out for instigators.
“If you see somebody trying to damage the integrity and humanity of what we stand for here today, point they ass out. We will remove them from this group. Because we’re here to represent Houston the right way,” he said.
Officials estimated that 60,000 people attended the protest, according to the Associated Press.
Sixteen of Floyd’s family members were at the rally. His brother spoke but did not give his name.
“Never I would have thought it would have had this many people for my brother,” Floyd’s brother said. “Man I love y’all. Y’all just don’t know that. I don’t want nobody to be protesting violently, you’re shaming all of our names, not just his name.”
“It’s bigger than my brother,” he added. “We got kids growing up sooner or later they’re going to be trying to figure it out. And they’ re going to say, ‘Man you’re next.’ We trying to break the cycle right now. We got this.”
There was a large police presence with officers on horseback and lining the march route in riot gear, backed by high-water rescue trucks they used to block adjacent streets. Police marched down the middle of the street amid the crowd as helicopters circled overhead, and paid no mind to the pungent smell of marijuana smoke lingering in the air.
Though Houston police arrested more than 100 people protesting Floyd’s death Friday — mostly for blocking freeways — and some businesses were vandalized, eight police were hurt and several squad cars were damaged, the city has not seen the widespread looting and arson of other major cities.
Police even had at least one supporter in the crowd Tuesday. Ryan Curry, 38, said he was out late into the night Friday and Saturday downtown for protests over Floyd’s death and heard people talking about how they were going to start beating up on police.
But Curry, who is black, said he has no problem with them. “I love the Houston police. They’re always there when I need them. I call them, they show up. That’s what I like. I love it when they show up,” he said.
Call and response chants led by people with bullhorns rippled up and down the street as people marched towards City Hall. “When I say George. You say Floyd. George! Floyd! George! Floyd! Get your foot! Off my neck!”
The 6-foot-6-inch Floyd was a star football player at Jack Yates High School in Houston’s Third Ward, a predominantly black neighborhood that is also home to the neighboring campuses of the University of Houston and Texas Southern University, a historically black college.
Friends say he had moved to Minneapolis from Houston for a fresh start and found a job as a bouncer at a restaurant, but he lost it when the restaurant closed in compliance with the state’s coronavirus stay-at-home orders.
Floyd, 46, died on Memorial Day as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck and did not move even as Floyd cried, “I can’t breathe.”
A nine-minute video of the incident was posted online and viewed by millions.
Chauvin and three other officers on the scene were fired. Chauvin is now behind bars facing murder and manslaughter charges
Floyd’s funeral is set for June 9 in Houston.
Fearing the march will cause a Covid-19 outbreak, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner warned people to wear their masks and keep their distance. Most people wore masks, but they stood shoulder-to-shoulder at City Hall, wiping sweat from their foreheads with handkerchiefs and rags as the heat index climbed above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Elliot Fowler, 15, a freshman at Kindred High School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Houston came to the rally with his dad.
He said the event was worth attending despite the prime conditions for spreading the virus.
“Sure I had concerns but I think this is a good enough cause where I’m willing to risk it for today,” he said.
Reverend Bill Lawson, 93, founder of the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, spoke from his wheelchair in front of City Hall.
“I have seen the civil rights movement from Rosa Parks until today,” Lawson said. “And now I see out in these streets marching because of an evil thing that was done to George Floyd. And I see you determined not simply to have three officers prosecuted but to change the life of these United States.”
Despite being one of the most diverse cities in America, Houston has not been immune to accusations of its police abusing and killing citizens with impunity.
Discovery in a federal lawsuit brought by the mother of Jordan Baker, a 26-year-old black man shot to death by an off-duty Houston policeman working a side security job, who claimed Baker charged at him while digging into the waistband of his pants, revealed that from 2009 to 2014, Houston Police Department’s internal affairs investigations deemed all 194 officer shootings of civilians justified, including 81 in which the victims were unarmed.
The city agreed in January to pay Baker’s family a $1.2 million settlement. A grand jury declined to indict the officer who killed him.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who reportedly attended Tuesday’s event, also marched arm-in-arm with protesters Saturday.
His presence was unwelcome for some Houston activists, who are demanding that he release body-cam footage of Houston police shooting and killing six people, five of them minorities, in the past two months.
Acevedo says the investigations need to be finished before he publicizes any video from the shootings and he has declined to do so out of respect for the victims’ families.
Tandra Landry, 56, said at Tuesday’s rally she believes Floyd’s death will spur criminal justice reforms because it was captured on video.
“I don’t think they are going to go back this time after seeing it. Because before we couldn’t see. Now that we’re seeing it, it’s not going to be the same. It can never be the same anymore. They are going to have to do something to change the justice system,” said Landry, a childcare provider.
Phillip Grant, a 48-year-old chef, said it was frightening to hear President Donald Trump on Monday threaten to deploy the U.S. military to stop protests that have turned violent in cities across the country.
Grant said it’s what Trump does not say that shows his character.
“The president cannot say three simple words and that says a lot about him. People say he’s not a racist but he cannot say black lives matter. That says a lot about the president.”