Abbott declares disaster as Texas cities brace for more protests

Protesters demonstrate in front of Dallas City Hall in downtown Dallas, Saturday, May 30, 2020. Protests across the country have escalated over the death of George Floyd who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

By JAKE BLEIBERG Associated Press

DALLAS (AP) — Texas cities braced Sunday for the possibility of another night of unrest, as officials considered curfews and bringing in reinforcements to try to prevent a repeat of the violence that broke out at weekend protests over the death of George Floyd and the treatment of black people by police.

Thousands of people took to the streets in cities throughout the country Friday and Saturday to protest the death of Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer used his knee to pin Floyd’s neck down for several minutes as Floyd pleaded for air and eventually stopped moving. Floyd grew up in Houston and his body is set to be returned to the city for burial.

In Texas, protesters vented their anger peacefully for hours Saturday in Dallas, Houston and Austin before the demonstrations got violent. Protesters set fires and broke into and robbed stores, and people got hurt. The police used tear gas to disperse some of the crowds and said they arrested more than 200 people combined in the three cities.

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a statewide disaster on Sunday, which allows him to designate federal agents to do the work of local police. It comes as some Texas organizers are calling off demonstrations and others are planning to proceed.

“Every Texan and every American has the right to protest and I encourage all Texans to exercise their First Amendment rights,” Abbott, a Republican, said in a statement. “However, violence against others and the destruction of property is unacceptable and counterproductive. As protests have turned violent in various areas across the state, it is crucial that we maintain order, uphold public safety, and protect against property damage or loss.

In Austin, organizers cancelled a rally that had been planned for Sunday at the state Capitol because they felt they couldn’t ensure the safety of African American protesters. Austin police arrested at least 19 people at downtown protests on Saturday and Sunday.

The Austin Justice Coalition had planned to gather in memory of Floyd and Mike Ramos, who was killed by Austin police in April. Chas Moore, the group’s director, said white people had “co-opted” the moment and that he could not ensure a safe environment for black demonstrators. He did not specify who he was concerned might try to hurt black protesters.

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Saturday’s demonstrations included vandalism at the state Capitol, where state police had already established a strong presence at the Sunday morning. The Capitol grounds were closed for the day, but demonstrators nonetheless gathered on the street outside in early afternoon.

In Dallas, where police arrested nearly 90 people Saturday after businesses were broken into and one man was badly beaten, authorities are considering a curfew. But local activists Dominique Alexander said demonstrations are still planned outside the police station and county jail.

“The majority of the looters were not protesters,” Alexander said. “You have people taking advantage.”


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Associated Press writer Jim Vertuno in Austin contributed to this report.