A lot happened as I observed the protest in front of the Capitol, but one thing was missing: rioting. In the days prior, there were countless news reports touting how violent the first week of protests became, but I witnessed none of that behavior break out. What had been a disorganized upswell of anger, resentment, and public unrest had become a united effort to maintain a strong show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The protest was an organized and well-policed affair, with water, food, and first aid provided by volunteers and donors.
I say well-policed because the protesters had the mission of bringing attention to the injustices that had sparked the BLM movement, and as individual protesters, they believed that they had the responsibility to weed out bad actors who sought to incite violence. Despite hearing reports of vandalism, any evidence of that was few and far between — just some graffiti on temporary plywood sheets and on top of already-existing graffiti walls. I witnessed the group silence several protesters who were shouting directly at officers to prevent them from “giving the police an excuse” to invade and disperse the assembly. This self-regulation aside, the participants were quite kind and, when they were not holding moments of silence or participating in organized chants, they were jovial. At the station, a band was even performing, playing a repertoire of songs with pro-black or anti-police messages.
The interactions between the protestors and the APD actually shocked me. They conversed rarely, but when they did it took the forms of pleas to understand the protesters’ cause. When the officers’ shifts changed, well wishes and “stay safe”s were exchanged that solidified in me and many others that the fight was against the racial inequities of the current law enforcement system, not individuals. This stood in stark contrast to the behavior of the members of the Department of Safety and the National Guard, who were stationed in stoic silence behind barricades in their anonymizing riot gear; metaphorical hammers of the state staring down a mob of nails.
At the police station, I never felt concerned that things would get out of hand, but earlier at the Capitol, the atmosphere felt constantly on edge. This was exacerbated by the multitude of passing vehicles shouting a mix of supportive slogans and/or racist epithets (the latter often visually demarcated by waving red MAGA hats out of their windows) and by the eventual presence of police surveillance drones.
Something that was particularly unsettling to see was the grounds of the Capitol barricaded and closed to the public. I typically rest there while waiting between Favor deliveries or after finishing my daily runs, but the home of Texas’s democracy has been cordoned off from those same people it is supposed to represent. I’m not sure if that says something about our current leaders’ separation from the demands of the citizens, but if the more recent inaction in the face of the pandemic is anything to go by, it might say something more about our current leaders’ separation from leading.