Katy Fenton and Morgan Shields do not know what it’s like to be discriminated against because of the color of their skin. They do not sense that others might feel threatened by their presence, and they do not fear for their safety during encounters with law enforcement officers.
But both area residents, who are white, realize that everyday life might be different for their friends who are black.
“We don’t necessarily understand what it’s like to have their plight in life or bear that burden,” said Shields, a fitness instructor who lives in Garden Oaks. “But we want them to know that we’re here supporting them.”
Shields and her friend Fenton, who lives in Oak Forest, are among the area residents who have participated in near-daily protests during the last week in response to the May 25 death of 46-year-old black man George Floyd.
The incident was the latest example of a person of color dying in police custody and has prompted large demonstrations in cities across the United States, including Houston. They were downtown protests throughout last weekend and again on Tuesday, when an estimated 60,000 marched from Discovery Green to City Hall to honor Floyd’s memory and denounce the manner in which he died.
“It lifted the scab off of something that was already there,” said Tanya Debose, who grew up in Independence Heights, a historically black Northwest Houston neighborhood. “Our voices kind of have been drowned.”
Some of the protests nationally have turned violent, and been accompanied by looting and rioting, and some of that has gone on in Houston. Local officials said several hundred people associated with the demonstrations have been arrested.
Debose said that is to be expected to a certain degree, because those who are compelled to challenge injustice likely feel they have been ignored by those with the power to enact change. Expressions of anger and rage are means of getting the attention of those elected officials and policymakers, she said.
“As a business owner, if it was my business that had been vandalized, so what?” Fenton said. “Throw some paint on. Fix the windows. This is a long game.”
With the exception of the night of Friday, May 29, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the protests in Houston have mostly been peaceful. He participated in Tuesday’s march, which was organized by Houston rappers Bun B and Trae tha Truth and included members of Floyd’s family.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Houston City Council member Abbie Kamin, who both represent area residents, were among the other elected officials who marched.
“I could not be more proud of Houston,” Turner said on Twitter after Tuesday’s protest. “As mayor of this city I want to thank again our police officers for their restraint, professionalism and service.”
Fenton said she supports police officers as well as the ethnic minorities who have been victims of police brutality, adding that the two causes can coexist. Shields said she hopes the momentum of the recent protests continues and leads to substantive societal change.
In Independence Heights, which in the last few years has been gentrifying and seeing an influx of white residents, Debose said people from other neighborhoods and of differing ethnicities have been asking to get more involved and volunteer. She said there has been an uptick in those overtures since Floyd’s death.
“This is one of those situations where, no matter what race, what political party, this has touched everyone. Because nobody can get a pass,” Debose said. “Everyone has to work and move forward in a positive manner. Otherwise, it’ll be like a rubber band and bounce back to where we were. And that’s not good for the next generation.”