On Tuesday June 2nd, I attended a #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd protest in downtown Houston, Texas. I was there to document the events for the numerous outlets I work with. In addition to writing for The Last American Vagabond, I also produce video content on my website, and co-host Free Thinker Radio on 90.1 KPFT in Houston. Despite my best efforts to inform the police I was operating as a member of the media, I was still arrested and held in Harris County Jail for 16 hours.
The June 2nd protest was organized by rappers and local celebrities, Bun B and Trae the Truth. The organizers called for supporters to join the family of George Floyd as they marched from Houston’s Discovery Green park to the steps of City Hall.
The organizers also went to great lengths to make it clear that they would not tolerate or support any efforts to provoke violence between cops and protesters, looting, or rioting. Their efforts were mostly successful as there was no looting or rioting or violence from the protesters. Sure, a few protesters in the crowd of 60,000 people threw plastic bottles of water at heavily armed police in riot gear. However, as we have seen in many instances around the country, it was the police who engaged in violent tactics while making arrests. I was one of those arrests.
I had been at the protests documenting for around 5 hours before the police declared the thousands of protesters in the streets and at the park to be an “unlawful assembly.” The police used a loud speaker to warn protesters that they were risking arrest if they stayed on scene. Eventually, the police stated that everyone within their reach was under arrest. The police – dressed in riot gear and armed with live ammunition – surrounded the protesters, medics, and yours truly using a tactic known as “kettling.” This tactic involves a large formation of police officers surrounding protesters and containing them in a limited area. It is typically employed when dealing with large crowds such as protests. The tactic has come under fire in recent days for its clear potential to increase violence and generally, degrade the situation between protesters and police.
In Houston, the police very quickly surrounded a group of about 50 protesters and began violently rushing into the crowd and grabbing people. One by one, the police ran into the crowd, grabbed an individual, and then sucked them into the mob of police before arresting them. The first dozen or so arrests were done in this violent manner. Eventually, the police calmed down and allowed the protesters to go with the officers without incident. Of course, by this point most of the people in attendance were further amped up by the aggressive police tactics.
During the chaos I told several officers I was press documenting the situation. I was told over and over that I should take it up with the courts. This is a clear violation of First Amendment protections for freedom of press and freedom of speech. Unfortunately, it seems that during the recent protests, such attacks on media are becoming normalized. A quick search reveals several headlines calling attention to the attack on free speech and journalists documenting the protests.
It would be a mistake to ignore the escalation between police and peaceful protesters and media. To be clear, there was a tiny minority of people who tossed plastic bottles of water. However, those were not the people who were arrested. Instead, the police focused on protesters exercising freedom of speech, myself exercising freedom of the press, and medics who were there to keep people safe in the event of police violence.
While it is absolutely true that there are provocateurs at many of the protests — some who appear to be undercover cops and others who are just opportunistic parasites — the vast majority of the protests in support of George Floyd have been peaceful. The corporate media have done a good job of amplifying the stories of looting and rioting to the point that many onlookers are unsympathetic to the violence being used against protesters. This is a dangerous combination — police violence against protesters, silencing of media, and a public conditioned to accept the violent actions of the authorities — which could spiral out into further division.
As a journalist (and an opponent of police violence) I will continue to document the George Floyd protests and other important movements in the United States. While many in the U.S. might not be accustomed to seeing protesters, medics, and journalists attacked and arrested, this is not unheard of in many places around the world. If the American people do not stand up and defend the freedom of assembly and freedom of the press we will very quickly see the erosion of these essential liberties.