A protester holding a sign calling for justice kneels in McKinney square at the steps of the old county courthouse. She is honoring the memory of George Floyd, the Black man whose death by a white police officer has sparked days of protests worldwide.
Watching the eight minute video of Floyd begging for his life as a former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for nine minutes, she says, moved her to leave the safety of her home as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to ravage the country. She isn’t alone. Other protesters, some in masks, gather with her Saturday evening in downtown McKinney, calling for justice for Floyd with protest signs that read “Latina 4 Black Lives Matter,” “White Silence = Violence,” “White Silence is White Consent.”
Compared to the hundreds who showed up to protests in Dallas, the McKinney turnout is relatively small and peaceful. Dallas has had three straight days of protests. Saturday night, windows were broken and shops in Deep Ellum were robbed and trashed. In the end, 70 people were arrested.
McKinney’s protest started in a Facebook group with 84 accepting the invitation to attend. About 100 people are here on the steps of the old county courthouse and around the base of the statue of James W. Throckmorton, the 12th Governor of Texas.
For three nights now, protesters in Dallas have walked the streets chanting Floyd’s name, or stationed themselves outside the Dallas police department with their signs. In McKinney, the protest never left the central square in downtown. Those who came, gathered with signs and masks. Some teenagers and a few children are milling on the sides of the courthouse away from the main group where, presumably, their parents gathered with other protesters.
Many are emblazoned with the words Floyd spoke while the Minneapolis police officer was kneeling on his neck: “I can’t breathe.”
Robyn Cain, one of the organizers of the protest, says that it was important to share their message in McKinney.
“I feel that white women in particular need to stand up and speak out because we are in a position of privilege,” she says. “Our skin color gives us a shield that black people don’t have.” Awareness, she adds, is low.
It’s a point driven home when an older man driving a red pick up truck stops at a light beside the protesters. The driver rolls his window down and begins hurling insults at them for a minute or two until the light changes.
“This is bullshit,” he yells before speeding away.
A protester and his daughter are standing close to the curb when it happens, and claim that he had nothing kind to say, but instead threatened to return with a gun.
For those who claim protests of this nature are the wrong response, Cain would point them to the Boston Tea Party. “This nation was built on dissent,” she says.
Across the street from the protest, the Warriors of Christ, a Christian activist group, set up their own camp. One of them brought a megaphone in order to witness to the protesters. The problem the nation faces, they say, is one of sin, not skin.
One man detaches from the main protest and comes to stand near them. “This isn’t the time or place, dude,” he tells the Christian with a megaphone. He is ignored, but doesn’t leave. He just stands there protecting the Warriors in case the protest turns violent.
“I disagree, but I respect their right to have an opinion,” he says. “But it’s really not the time or the place for this. They should be over there, with us.”
McKinney Councilmember La’Shadion Shemwell, with Black Lives Matter on the back of his shirt, comes over to ask the counter-protesters to respectfully stop. But after a few minutes he gives up and returns to the crowd with his own megaphone and begins speaking over the Christian activists.
He introduces himself as a city council member and wants people to know that he, a public representative, is present and protesting.
“With 200 pounds on [Floyd’s] back, he was uncomfortable,” he shouts. “This may be uncomfortable for you today, but it was more uncomfortable for him. He is forever silent. We are going to make noise for him. Say his name!”
“George Floyd!” the small crowd roars.
From across the street, comes another rallying cry but from the Christian activists whenever Shemwell pauses to take a breath: “In Christ you can have eternal life; eternal life is offered in the name of Jesus Christ, and he is alive.”
Shemwell paces in front of the crowd, asking why, when he called for a “Black State of Emergency” in October, they didn’t show up. “Because it was not popular, it was not a hashtag, not the next trending thing on Twitter,” he shouts. “Where was this outrage, where was this momentum?”
Then he criticizes Gov. Greg Abbott for speaking about Floyd’s murder yet remaining silent on acts of police brutality against black Texans like McKinney’s Darius Tarver, Dallas’ Botham Jean, and Fort Worth’s Atatiana Jefferson.
Shemwell isn’t the only public figure in attendance. McKinney Mayor George Fuller, though he did not support Shemwell’s “Black State of Emergency,” addresses protesters and offers his own support. Today, they’re allies.
“Thank you for bringing it here,” Fuller says. “I’m honored that you showed up and that it’s peaceful … there is a racial divide. A racial disparity across the country. We [Shemwell and I] watch from a seat most of you have not had the pleasure—or displeasure—of having.”
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He calls the peaceful protest a “testament to who we can be as a country,” and also reads a statement from the McKinney Police Chief Greg Conley who assures the public that the police department will ensure no officer behaves in such a way in McKinney.
“No police department trains like this,” Conley wrote. “Other officers have a duty to intervene if they see an officer doing wrong or losing control of their emotions.”
The protest dispersed as quietly as it had gathered.